In the galleries: No day at the beach
A self-portrait by Charles Williams in the exhibit “Swim,” at Morton Fine Art. (Courtesy Charles Williams and Morton Fine Art)
By Mark Jenkins October 9 at 11:57 AM
In the self-portraits of “Swim,” Charles Williams presents himself in goggles and other aquatic paraphernalia, his muscles taut and his skin burnished. The South Carolina artist, however, isn’t bragging about his prowess in the water. He actually has a powerful fear of it, in part because of a childhood incident in which he nearly drowned. The three series gathered in this Morton Fine Arts show are quite different, but all address Williams’s fraught relationship with the sea.
The largest works are realistic paintings of yellow sand and frothy surf under night skies. These are based on photos Williams took while wading in the water and experiencing — the show’s catalogue reports — “shallow breaths, a quickened heartbeat and trembling hands.” That anxiety is not conveyed by the pictures, which are calm and precisely rendered, even if the blackness above the water does indicate that this is no day at the beach.
Even darker are the small oils of waves at nighttime, entirely in black. The water’s motion and contours are depicted entirely by line and texture, and visible only when the light hits at a suitable angle. These paintings resemble engravings and bas-relief sculptures.
Although Williams is no impressionist, the self-portraits are a bit looser than his large surf pictures. Most of them are painted on Mylar, which lacks the absorbency of canvas and thus gives a more immediate appearance. Sheer white, apparently representing harsh sunlight, obliterates areas of the image. These ephemeral qualities, however, are countered by the strength of the artist’s features and form. Even when the subject is simply water and air, Williams’s style always feels substantial.
Swim: Charles Williams On view through Oct. 13 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. www.mortonfineart.com.
Charles Williams. “Lost and Found 4.” (Courtesy Charles Williams and Morton Fine Art)
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