Art of vibrant colors and swirling motifs

The neon light-like glow that greets the visitor at the doorstep of the Bernier/Eliades Gallery is a pleasant introduction to an exhibition that bursts with the vibrant, joyful colors and sinuous lines that typify the latest paintings of the renowned American artist Sue Williams. Her solo show at the gallery consists of large canvases, an expansive tapestry and several drawings that manifest the recognizable style the artist has been developing since the 1990s. Gender issues were at the crux of her art before that, in the ’80s, when this Chicago-born and New York-based artist began showing her work systematically. Scenes of rape and sexual harrassment frequently depicted in graffiti-like paintings quickly established Williams’s work within the feminist-oriented debate. Like other artists contemporary to her, she explored the victimization of women and shared in the interest that the art (particularly American art) of the time took in the «abject» human body, the body as a site of waste, abuse, disease and trauma. The anger and harsh criticism that emanated from her first paintings gradually subsided, resulting – in the late ’90s – in works that are less literal and more abstract, less disturbing and more sensual. In her current works, swirling shapes that expand throughout the painting’s surfaces play with abstraction and figuration. Resembling floral or organic motifs, they are, at a closer glance, images of genitalia and sexual intercourse, yet with no expression of violence. One has the sense that Williams takes pleasure in ambiguity, in tempting the viewer to gradually discover the contents of her paintings and in creating muliple, often contradictory impressions. In Williams’s paintings there is both innocence and cynicism, a decorative aspect combined with a subtly provocative subject matter. There is also humor; not the bitter, caustic humor of her first works, but a more detached, lighter kind of humor. The glowing, pop-like colors that Williams employs are perhaps what make the strongest impression on the viewer. So does the artist’s drawing skills and the tapestry-like effect that a weaving of interrelated motifs create against the surface of the painting, each painted in a single color: fuschia, lime green or pink. The aesthetics of cartoon art or comics to which the paintings of Williams have often been compared are there, but oddly, so is the more antique feeling of old, Liberty-like tapestries and embroidery-like motifs. Blending the energy of a modern, pop-like aesthetic with a more fragile, feminine resonance, Williams continues her play on ambiguity. Whether the choice to turn provocative, sexual-oriented images to decorative motifs is the artist’s way of pointing to contemporary voyeurism and the numbing of our response to such images remains a hypothesis. Even if there is some truth to it, however, it does not seem to matter for what prevails is the pleasure induced by beautiful colors and designs. Sue Williams, at the Bernier/Eliades Gallery (11 Eptachalkou, 210.341.3935), to Saturday.