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Peter Williams in the studio.

For more than 45 years Williams has chronicled current and historical events, interspersing pictorial narratives with personal anecdotes and fictional characters in order to create vibrant paintings about the diverse experiences of Black Americans. With boldness and humor, he tackles the darkest of subjects including, but not limited to, police brutality, lynching, slavery, mass incarceration, and other realms of racial oppression.  Williams uses cultural criticism to form new creation myths, retelling the history of America from fresh and cosmic perspectives.

Williams’ more recent paintings address a range of subjects including oppressive social structures, white supremacy, police brutality, abuse of power, and political activism. In his on-going series, Black Exodus, Williams tells an Afrofuturist tale of a brown-skinned race that escapes to outer space in search of new planet homes and an end to the cycles of oppression from which they have been subjected. The tale that Williams has envisioned is a journey of consciousness and conscience, a metaphor for the inner and outer travels that all of us must undertake to confront the truth about race and ourselves. 

Peter Williams (1952 - 2021) was born in Suffern, NY and raised in Nyack, NY.  He earned his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2021 he was the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he received the Artists’ Legacy Foundation Artist Award.  In 2018 he was inducted into the National Academy of Design. Other awards include the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2018), Joan Mitchell Awards (2004, 2007), Ford Foundation Fellowships (1985, 1987), and McKnight Foundation Fellowship (1983). He was to retire in September, 2021 from his position as Senior Professor, Fine Arts Department, University of Delaware and taught at Wayne State University for 17 years prior.   

Williams’ many exhibitions include Black Universe (2020) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, MI; Trinosophes, Detroit, MI; and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Men of Steel, Women of Wonder (2019), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; River of Styx (2018), Luis De Jesus Los Angeles; With So Little To Be Sure Of (2018), CUE Art Foundation, New York; Prospect.4: The Lotus In Spite Of The Swamp (2017-18), Prospect Triennial, New Orleans, LA; Dark Humor: Peter Williams (2017), Allcott Gallery, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC; The N-Word: Common and Proper Nouns (2017), Ruffin Gallery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; Me, My, Mine: Commanding Subjectivity in Painting (2016), DC Moore Gallery, New York, NY.

Peter Williams’ paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Nasher Museum of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Davis Museum of Art/Wellesley College, Ft. Wayne Museum of Art, Howard University in Washington DC; Wayne State University, Detroit; as well as numerous private collections including Jorge M. Perez/El Espacio 23, Miami, FL; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; McEvoy Family Collection, San Francisco, CA; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, MI; Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection/The Bunker, Palm Beach, FL; Bill and Christy Gautreaux, Kansas City, MO; CCH Pounder, New Orleans, LA; Rev. Al Shands, Louisville, KY; Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth, Palm Beach, FL; Burger Collection Hong Kong; among others.  

Peter Williams Cuban Rockety Station, 2019

Peter Williams
Cuban Rockety Station, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in.

Peter Williams Head Trip by Black Folks to Another Planet, 2019

Peter Williams
Head Trip by Black Folks to Another Planet, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in.

Peter Williams Mortal Ice, 2019

Peter Williams
Mortal Ice, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in.

Peter Williams Wormhole, 2019

Peter Williams
Wormhole, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in.

Peter Williams i Fell From the Sky, 2019

Peter Williams
i Fell From the Sky, 2019
Oil on canvas
72 x 96 in.

Peter Williams Black Peoples Oil, 2019

Peter Williams
Black Peoples Oil, 2019
Oil on canvas
72 x 96 in.

Peter Williams Goggles, 2019

Peter Williams
Goggles, 2019
Oil on canvas
72 x 96 in.

Peter Williams Cathedral, 2019

Peter Williams
Cathedral, 2019
Oil on canvas
72 x 96 in.

Peter Williams DNA, 2020

Peter Williams
DNA, 2020
Oil on canvas
72 x 96 in.

Peter Williams Birdland, 2020

Peter Williams
Birdland, 2020
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in.

Peter Williams Control Room, 2019

Peter Williams
Control Room, 2019
Oil on canvas
48 x 60 in.

Peter Williams Pete and Mike, 2019

Peter Williams
Pete and Mike, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 48 in.

Peter Williams MAL.COMX, 2019

Peter Williams
MAL.COMX, 2019
Oil on canvas
34 x 34 in.

Peter Williams ROSA PARKS, 2019

Peter Williams
ROSA PARKS, 2019
Oil on canvas
34 x 34 in.

Peter Williams Migration Agents, 2019

Peter Williams
Migration Agents, 2019
Oil on canvas
60 x 48 in.

Peter Williams The Caucasuss, 2019

Peter Williams
The Caucasuss, 2019
Oil on canvas
30 x 48 in.

Peter Williams’s new suite of paintings, entitled “Black Exodus,” uses allegory and satire to explore a new ecologically-focused diaspora. With the earth on the brink of environmental disaster, Williams tells an Afrofuturist tale of a community as it escapes to outer space.  They travel in retrofitted 1950s flying cars named for heroes like “Mal.Colm X” and “ROSA.PARKS,” dream of new planet homes, and commune with bird-creatures who have become harbingers of human destruction. Will Williams’s protagonists remain trapped in a cycle of oppression or will they escape to the stars?

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