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 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 was born 1952 in Nyack, NY. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and recently retired from his position as Senior Professor in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Delaware. Williams earned his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is the recipient of the 2020 Artist’s Legacy Foundation Artist Award. In 2018 Williams was inducted into the National Academy of Design and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2018), Joan Mitchell Award (2004 and 2007), Ford Foundation Fellowship (1985 and 1987), and McKnight Foundation Fellowship (1983). His 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, 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 private collections including Jorge M. Perez/El Espacio 23, Miami, FL; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; McEvoy Family Collection, San Francisco, CA; Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection/The Bunker, Palm Beach, FL; CCH Pounder, New Orleans, LA; Rev. Al Shands, Louisville, KY, Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth, Palm Beach, FL and Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, MI, among others.
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; Soul Recordings (2018), Luis De Jesus Los Angeles; 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