Strange geometries inhabit the blistering spaces that materialize from painter Stephen Williams’ brush. At once vaporous and concrete, these allusive forms rise, fall and float in a world parched by the omnipresent light of caustic reds and alkaline yellows. Despite the ultramarine blue and steel grays’ promised respite, in this show, an air of apocalyptic malaise abounds.
The formal antecedents that anchor “…a melting, born to wall off the crystallized sun” are plain enough: the biomorphic surrealism of Joan Miro and the anthropomorphic ambiguities of Salvador Dali are inescapable. But in Williams’ hands, the vernacular is extended, the nouns further abstracted. So while the idiom is familiar, the riffs are fresh.
There’s no expository press release or heady artist’s statement accompanying the exhibition. Generally, that isn’t a bad thing. But this is terrain that would benefit from even a vague map. In lieu of direction, the viewer is tasked with interpreting a raft of lengthy titles that border on the grandiloquent. How one is supposed to relate titles such as “There in the dry place, burned by the memory of starlight, I feel this wind on her skin. ‘Here, touched by the faded sun, I am the world.’” to the dancing shapes and luminous color before them is really anyone’s guess.
Williams knows how to handle paint though, and his works brim with subtle contrasts of surface effect and edge quality that don’t reproduce electronically. Occasionally, this facility with media gets the better of him, and a few pictures (one of the rare “Untitled” pieces for example) are bogged down by the weight of excessive touch. The best works are the least cluttered and exhibit almost Vermeer-like clarity. After nearly two decades in New York, Williams is back in Chicago, and our scene is richer for it. A thoroughly compelling show in an autumn full of them. (Alan Pocaro)
“…a melting, born to wall off the crystallized sun” is on view through October 16 at 65Grand, 3252 West North.