|2005||Essay, Gabriel Laderman|
|Catalogue, Blue Period, Thomas Masters Gallery|
|2004||An Artist in the Garden, Barbara Mahany - Chicago Tribune staff reporter|
|Painting Between the Lines, Leah Pietrusiak - CityLink Chicago|
|2002||Essay, Cathy Lebowitz - Picture Editor and Exhibition Reviews Editor, Art in America||Chicago Artist Brings Work to Life, Wyoming Tribune|
|Individual Review, John Brunetti - Critic, The New Art Examiner|
|Artist Discovers Beauty of Tools, The Times|
|2000||Catalogue essay "The Search for Innocence", Don Davis|
|1999||Catalogue essay "In Resonance", Vesela Stretenovic - Curator, Brown University|
Megan Williamson is a painter formed by the sophisticated use of the French modernist tradition. Although her paintings may look at first glance especially indebted to the Fauve painters -- Matisse, Marquet, and Roualt, for example -- they contain as well solid abstract structure derived from an understanding of Cubist principles of construction. This of course was also true of the finest of the Fauves. Her double debt to them and to the Cubists is a hallmark of her great compositional acuity.
She has developed in a pretty straight line over the past 25 years, although I know she sees it as a series of tangents to a central series of issues. Her work has become more and more invested in a color sensibility which I can only see elsewhere in the most glorious years of Fauve painting. No earlier American painter deserves to be called a Fauve as much as she does, except Louisa Matthiasdottir, and on occasion, Nell Blaine.
Since the coming and going of Abstract Expressionism, with those exceptions, there has been very little work of an expressionist figurative nature in this country which can claim either her pedigree or her intensity as an artist. An expressionist artist shows herself in the way the brush dances over the canvas, annotating the forms and colors of the motif. But only the very rare expressionist also shows a sensibility refined enough while in the throes of painterly passion to find absolute pictorial locations for these paroxysms of gesture which fulfill their pictorial needs. The exact placement, or exact replacement of every mark and each color must occur for the painting to succeed. And all of this needs to be done at white hot speed. This she seems able to do without fail.
It is important to note that the drawing with color which has become her favorite mode of painting requires a lot more than absolute color clarity. The drawing must be perfectly placed and in its lines and movements must complement not only the other lines, but the fields of color, small and large, into which they have been dropped, and must complete the pictorial action of the plane, her canvas.
It is a pleasure to look at her work, because it delights the eye and the mind like a stroll through a garden full of flowers. She has added beauty to our world, and we should be grateful for its presence in such clarity and abundance. I hope to see many more of her works.
Gabriel Laderman, 2005
An Artist in the Garden
Once, not so many years ago, Megan Williamson painted the Umbrian countryside: the rolling hills, the Italian sky that goes forever, the knotted olive trees all in a row.
Summer after summer, she settled there in the Italian countryside. Far, far, from the Chicago she called home, she managed every summer to teach, to paint, to breathe in the very air that fed her painter's soul.
Then her husband was injured by a hit-and-run driver. With a crushed disc at the base of his neck, her husband was headed for spinal cord surgery, months of rehab and going nowhere. Williamson, too, was grounded; getting back to Umbria was not in the picture.
So, driving down Ashland Avenue one summer afternoon, the painter of abstract landscapes looked up and saw the unlikeliest of landscapes: a pocket park and dog run wedged in along Cortland Street and Ashland Avenue, just under the fumes of the Kennedy Expressway.
Not exactly a vision to write home about.
Somehow, though, Williamson was stirred to come back with her French easel and her paints and her brushes.
She painted the harsh urban landscape. Hardly Umbrian, it offered its own richness in color and texture and composition, the very things that had held her captive and captivated in Italy. But she got real tired of what comes to you when you're a painter in a park: pickup lines from guys who want to date you, parents who want you to teach their little darling how to work a brush, and, yes, dogs who lift their legs on your easel.
"Not all of which are bad things," says Williamson, 44, "but it is hard to concentrate".
"So I started looking for more private places where I could completely turn off my city radar and just concentrate on the painting. So I could really focus on the painting. Landscape painting, even if it's in the city, is pastoral. You have to be able to be open to what's out there."
Thus, the Umbrian landscape painter became the urban garden painter.
Williamson, whose 17 paintings from 14 city gardens are now showing at the Thomas Masters Gallery, 245 W. North Ave., through the end of September, found that one garden begat another.
She started with her yoga teacher's garden in Wicker Park. That led her to Rick Bayless' kitchen garden not too far away (because Bayless, chef/owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, was a student of the same yoga teacher). A stroll through her own Wicker Park neighborhood led her to meet the Master Gardener of the 6,000-square-foot garden in Wicker Park. And he opened to her the gates of great gardens he knew sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.
She has painted, too, the riotous vegetable garden of a Filipino man on the far Northwest Side, where his exuberance erupts from the chain-link-and-sod monotony of row-after-row sameness along his street. She also has painted a garden under the rattling tracks of the CTA's Brown Line trains. And she's settled in with her French easel on an estate in Lake Forest.
No matter the garden, she says, there is always an intimacy. And a way of looking at a garden that might escape even the most fervent gardener. "With my brush in my hand, I sat down and really looked. I'm two steps back, I take in the whole city."
"I'd be standing there with my French easel and the gate would open. I'd get that big picture, seeing it for the first time, taking in the neighbors, taking in the city, and how everything talks to each other. I'm taking it all in, whereas a gardener builds it over time."
"A painter moves through space not just on the ground plane. You can kind of do this visual arabesque."
Doug Wood, the Master Gardener of Wicker Park and a former modern dance choreographer, welcomes Williamson into his garden for the fresh eye, the painter's eye, she brings along with her brushes.
"When you're in the garden every day, you don't see time changing," Wood says. "Artwork stops a moment. A gardener sets up parameters and then the garden keeps changing. A painting is even better than a photograph in that it's how someone sees what you're doing. It's an abstraction."
"Megan is a very brilliant person who can think across artistic lines."
Masters, the gallery owner who has shown Williamson's work for the last 10 years, says he was compelled by the idea "that she's revealing these urban sanctuaries, which are so much a part of people's salvation and endurance."
After 2 1/2 years of slipping practically unseen into so many gardens, Williamson has stumbled on this one certain truth: Gardens can be the great equalizer.
"I get to be in a really intimate space in someone's life. Give me a glass of wine and I might call it sacred. So many people just feel a need to grow, to be in the dirt -- no matter if they're under the 'L' tracks or in Lake Forest."
Barbara Mahany, 2004
EssayMegan Williamson's art practice has been one of careful choices. Her paintings and drawings belong to an enduring tradition of painterly inquiry. Limning the terrain between abstraction and observation, she works from the landscape or parts of extensive still lifes, choosing emergent forms for their dynamic connection to the flat space of the canvas. Many of her complex paintings resemble the interconnected and loaded surfaces of de Kooning's Excavation and Attic. Paced with unfamiliar amalgams of language, they can be seen as the equivalent of free association. Through rigor of drawing and clarity of color, Williamson creates a precise depth of field. The time the artist spends looking and making decisions, whether spontaneous or considered, as well as the time the viewer takes to look at the work - are an essential part of their existence.
In this series, unusual for the artist in the works' centralized compositions, Williamson closely investigates microcosms of form. The repetition and variation of fabric configurations provide her with an opportunity to create consistent, intricate explorations of the way space and matter intertwine. Each painting's resolution balances the laws of the physical world with the lawlessness of the imagination in a different way, sometimes accentuating the sensual aspects of paint, sometimes suggestive of mysterious worlds of color and shape.
Cathy Lebowitz, 2002
Catalogue Essay "The Search for Innocence"At some point, an artist awakens to the intrigue of the nexus between object and environment. It is at this juncture that the line in their drawing becomes a kind of traveller, beginning a search that must arrive at no answers, only edges.
This is the objectivity that Rilke describes in Cezanne's self-portraits - "portraying himself... with the good faith and concern for the simple facts exhibited by a dog who sees himsef in the mirror and thinks: there's another dog."
Megan Williamson is on this quest. Her paintings and drawings are a kind of diary of these crossings and recrossings of her universe. The etched shadow of the Umbrian sun across the fulsome flora of olives, grapes and red soil; the spiny undulation of the line as it picks its way around the acid contours of a hammer's head; these are worlds created in the mind's eye, and duly recorded here.
Don Davis, 2000
New Art Examiner, Individual ReviewThere is a distinct sense of theatre when entering this northside gallery. The grey-green alcoves that comprise the space's insular rear "salons" evoke a time earlier in the century when Modernist painting was still considered scandalous. This environment is well-suited for viewing the paintings, drawings and prints of Megan Williamson collectively titled "Tools, Chaos and Order". An emerging artist who uses the vocabulary of Surrealists and Cubist-inspired abstraction to transform still lives of hand tools into gestural investigations of space, form, color, and light, Williamson assumes the difficult task of exploring a painting vocabulary whose established history leaves little margin for error. Her struggle to balance "chaos and order" in her work, while not retaining the societal provocation of previous eras, displays the continuing need for some painters to locate meaning in the slippery spaces between representation and abstraction, cognition and obfuscation.
The juxtaposition of Williamson's two groups of works - her black-and-white drawings and colorful oil paintings - reveals the crucial inconsistencies in her interpretation of positive and negative space, and scale, which determine her pieces' potential for richness. Surprisingly, it is her graphic, black-ink-brush drawings that dominated the exhibition. Completed in response to the paintings, these works on paper draw one into the interlocking masses of the brutish yet elegant forms of wrenches, clamps, welding goggles, trowels, saws and work gloves. Where the tools in Williamson's large paintings often appear too small and evenly staggered to create a dynamic push/pull between positive and negative spaces, the same objects fill her smaller compositions, dramatically transforming white paper into vibrating, seemingly spontaneous exchanges between solid and void.
It is, however, Williamson's ability to unexpectedly anthropomorphize singular industrial forms with a minimum number of decisive brush strokes that is the most poetic aspect of her work. A single trowel standing vertically becomes a lone sentinel through the spare and immediate delineation of its contour; the vacant lenses of doubled-over welding goggles become haunting eyes that resemble beacons engaged in an endless search. These quite simple drawings encapsulate the chaos and order with which Williamson wrestles. If her paintings can incorporate this power, she will only lengthen our engagement.
John Brunetti, 2000
Catalogue Essay "In Resonance"Whether in the form of painting or drawing, the art of Megan Williamson balances two worlds: the world of visible appearances and the world of invisible reflections. Grounded in a perception of natural forms, figures and objects, her work exceeds the region of sight, aiming toward depiction of the unseen and imaginary.
Trained as a figurative painter and coming out of the tradition of the New York School of painters, Williamson managed to incorporate both languages into her style: faithfulness to observation as well as to inner expression. Although her recent works recall the boldness of Beckmann's woodcuts, the brushstrokes and palette of de Kooning's canvases, and the calligraphy and gestural energy of Kline's and Motherwell's black-and-white paintings, they reveal a sensibility that is uniquely her own; they are restless and gutsy, aspiring to convey a feeling of the material world, but also human presence within it. In this respect, Williamson's work demonstrates that abstraction can indeed surpass formalism's sheer play with painterly marks by investigating what is painted and why. And it is this investigation of meaning through experimentation with pictorial forms that lies at the core of her working method. In the artist's own words, "The paintings begin with a close observation of the relationship of the objects to one another, only to continue searching the unseen relationships of those objects". The search in Williamson's paintings occurs through the drawings that she makes from her paintings in order to understand them and find the new solution for them that cannot be found from direct observation. However, although emerging in the middle of a series of paintings, sharing their themes, Williamson's drawings are to be considered finished pieces in their own right.
Executed in series, the artist's recent paintings and works on paper represent an extensive visual exploration of still lifes (Still Life: Mapping the Universe) on the one side and singular objects (Knife and Sheath; Door Knocker; Pair of Gloves; Electrical Clamps) on the other. While the still life paintings and drawings, which join odd objects together to discover new relationships among them, are imbued with formal density and inner tension, the single-object drawings are depicted as bold representations of isolated, solitary things. This concentration on a single shape as opposed to a crowded composition derives from the artist's need to differentiate oneness from undifferentiated wholeness, but also from her search for silence in noise and peace in crowds. And it is this need for re-ordering chaos that characterizes the best of Williamson's artwork. In this respect, her still lifes and single-object drawings exist in resonance with each other, similar to a resonance of physical-contemplative, tangible-intangible, and visible-invisible aspects of life.
Vesela Stretenovic, 1999