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Michelle Y Williams

by Marjorie Rawle

Michelle Y Williams’s work, despite being housed in numerous galleries across the country and across the world, comes out of a completely cut-off, sequestered place, where only artist and canvas exist, without any preconceived notions of what will emerge on the other side.

riptide-aLocked away in her studio, this Houston native creates paintings that favor flaws over the flawless, finding a mystical beauty in those things that most people think of as mistakes to be corrected. The more rusted, cracked, uneven, and unpolished something is, the more exciting it is in Williams’s mind, where perfection is only good for inducing a yawn or two.

The reason for holing herself up in order to create doesn’t come from a place of negativity, but actually quite the opposite—the isolation acts as a buffer to all of the surrounding distractions and inhibitors that just aren’t conducive to her art-making.Working with a vast range of media including wood, metal, and plexiglass, the one thing she will never be caught without is a palate knife, an obvious favorite amongst all the tools in her repertoire. Knife in hand, Michelle engages in a kind of push and pull with the blank surface, responding to the canvas with her innermost vision that is made pure by her solitude. From this description one might be inclined to think that the resulting work would be incredibly singular or self- centered, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Leaving most pieces untitled, Williams allows her audience to respond individually to her abstract compositions instead of telling us what we should see. When standing before her striking smears of subtle pastels, it’s to be expected that one person will feel the soft foam of the ocean against their toes, while another will only see the cellular organisms she was forced to scrutinize under a microscope in Biology 101. An emotional response, whether positive, negative, or completely off-kilter, is exactly what Williams sees as the pivotal point of her body of work, believing this purely subjective experience and connection to be paramount above all else.

myw cutsThis central spirituality in her work is derived from her fascination with Japanese aesthetic practices, specifically the wabi-sabi principle that emphasizes the embrace of imperfection. For Williams, the arduous task of attempting to buff out and airbrush over the inevitable mistakes of life just isn’t worth the negative energy; just as eloquently as in her paintings, Williams elaborates on her thinking:

“In a stain, we find understanding; in a dent, our ability to heal; in a blemish, an unchained beauty.”

Williams’s paintings act as a kind of mediation between our world and the transcendentally beautiful one that she sees, visually translating all the things those of us without such an insightful eye cannot see otherwise.


afterglowMichelle Y Williams
Atrium Art Gallery
61 Queen Street, Charleston

Posted in Visual on January 19, 2016 (Winter 2016) by Matt Mill.

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