Peter Williams: Black Universe is a survey of figurative and abstract work by artist Peter Williams, whose visually seductive paintings intertwine art historical references and allegory with current events and personal life experiences. Over the course of more than 40 years, Williams’ practice has actively confronted a multitude of subjects, including the oppressive social structures of white supremacy and discrimination.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) and curated by Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator Larry Ossei-Mensah with independent curator Rebecca Mazzei, this exhibition highlights two bodies of work: the 2019 figurative Black Exodus series (on view at MOCAD) and Narration and Transition, a selection of abstract paintings (on view at the Detroit artist-run space, Trinosophes). Williams' paintings present an uncensored perspective of dominant contemporary culture—challenging our desires, humor, and understanding of humanity.
The formal qualities of painting, such as surface, color, shape, and form, function purposefully in the artist’s work. Williams slips between abstraction and figuration, conveying simultaneous perceptual experiences. Color is his self-professed “gateway drug” that entices the viewer to engage with his paintings. He also uses pattern and distortion as devices to portray the disruptive conditions that affect Black lives in society. His cartoonish characters may grab the viewer’s attention at first, but nothing can be taken at face value. A network of activity resides in the layers beneath the surface.
Peter Williams was born 1952 in Nyack, NY. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and is 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. 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, Howard University in Washington DC; as well as private collections including Jorge M. Perez/El Espacio 23, Miami, FL; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; Beth Rudin DeWoody/The Bunker, Palm Beach, FL; McEvoy Foundation, San Francisco, CA; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, MI; and Bill and Christy Gautreaux Collection, Kansas City, MO, among others.
Williams’ exhibitions include Black Universe (2020), MOCAD, Detroit, MI; 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, New York; and the Whitney Biennial (2002), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.