Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire

This exhibition is now closed

Colourful abstract painting

Aubrey Williams, 'Hymn to the Sun IV' (Olmec Maya series) 1984 © Estate of Aubrey Williams, All Rights Reserved DACS.

15 January 2010 to 11 April 2010

Aubrey Williams' art resists definition and the significance of his work was not fully appreciated in his own lifetime. 'Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire' comprised of 14 paintings, which demonstrated the strength of the artist's work. His paintings featured fragmented objects, intense natural colours and hint at musical counterpoint and dramatic spatial effects.

Williams was a Guyanese-born artist and many factors influenced his work. He admired American abstract expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky and his artistic interests included ornithology, the environment and the music of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Above all, a preoccupation with indigenous and ancient cultures of Central and South America, defined his artistic vision and helped him develop his own visual language.

His interest in these cultures enabled him to assert an authentic Caribbean identity within a modern mainstream art world. As he put it:

"The act of painting, the act of daring to make art, the Arawak had a word for it and they called it Timehri... Now, Timehri to the Arawak means the mark of the hand of man...That is the word for art for me."

This exhibition contributes to a reassessment of the artist and provides a rare opportunity to see an important group of his work in the North of England.

About the artist

A transatlantic life

(1926 - 1990)

Aubrey Williams was born and grew up in Georgetown, Guyana. He began drawing at a very young age, learning formal painting skills at the Working People's Art Group. After leaving school, he qualified as an Agricultural Field Officer and was posted to the remote forests of the Guyanese interior in 1947.

Here, living amongst the Warrau people, he developed his interest in indigenous and ancient Central and South American cultures. By 1952, Williams had decided to become a professional painter and he came to live and work in London. He exhibited extensively in England and Europe from the late 1950s. He won the only prize at the First Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art in 1963 and the Commonwealth Painting Prize
in 1965.

From 1970 Williams also spent periods working in studios in Jamaica and Florida, returning to Guyana occasionally to take active part in events like the 1972 Carifesta festival. Williams was an early member of the London-based Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-72). The Movement supported the recognition and development of Caribbean literature and creative arts independent of European traditions.

During a prolific period in the 1970s and early 1980s he produced the Shostakovich series of 30 large-scale abstract paintings. In the Olmec Maya series of the 1980s Williams combined abstraction with recognisable figures and icons based on the themes that had in fact always driven him.

Williams' global concerns and innovative style, as well as the relevance of his cultural and environmental themes, ensure that his works have an ongoing impact that still affects us today.

Presented in collaboration with October Gallery, London and the Aubrey Williams Estate.

October Gallery

This exhibition was also part of 'Liverpool and the Black Atlantic', a city-wide series of exhibitions and events.