CHARLES WILLIAMS Museum Exhibition “Swim” Dispels Stereotypes

29 Jan

 

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Myrtle Beach art museum offering aims to dispel stereotypes about African-Americans and swimming

For Weekly SurgeJanuary 15, 2015

Charles Williams. Courtesy photo.

Charles Williams. Courtesy photo.

Known for his realism, especially in regard to ocean scenes, artist and Georgetown native Charles Williams, 30, will present 12 six-by-eight oil paintings and 40 painted studies for “Swim: An Artist’s Journey,” inspired by a near-drowning experience and his efforts to come to terms with water – its beauty and serenity versus the potential danger and the very real possibility of fatality – opening tonight at Myrtle Beach’s Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum.

Williams, who is African-American, said the original focus of “Swim” was on stereotypes associated with black males and swimming – like “black people don’t swim,” and his impressions of the percentage rate of accidental drowning, utilizing iconic sneakers as social context in his pieces. His work has since taken on a deeply personal tone. “I decided to put the sneaker social context aside and work on the psychology of this fear that I had of water,” he said. “This exhibition is an acknowledgement of my fear – and also the first step that I am making toward progressing – toward getting back into the water and being able to be comfortable and swim.”

The process has proven to be therapeutic for Williams.

Charles Williams. Courtesy photo.

Charles Williams. Courtesy photo.

“I am using swimming as a vehicle to say, ‘OK, this is who I am, and I am comfortable to say that this is my fear.’” In the past, he would tell people that he took lessons if the subject of swimming came up, but this was only part of the equation. He knew the techniques, but his fear overrode them. “But lately in doing these massive paintings for my show, I have gotten more comfortable about saying, ‘No – I can’t swim. If you put me in water, I can’t swim. I need a life vest.’”

His works promise to reveal a battle within himself over time. “It’s like the water and the ocean have these human characteristics. It could be serene and pretty, but it can also be overwhelming and intimidating,” he said. “The more you study it and the more you understand it, you have to respect it. In order to respect it, you have to learn the tactics to survive in it – and that encompasses swimming.”

The exhibition has been in the works for quite some time, according to Art Museum executive director Pat Goodwin.

“We first met and discussed an exhibition with Charles a few years ago,” she said. “Shortly after those initial conversations, he presented us with Swim: An Artist’s Journey – a very unique exhibition concept. We were immediately intrigued. Here was an opportunity to not only showcase Charles’ work but also to offer an exhibit that included an educational and didactic component, and that is something very important to the mission of our Art Museum.”

Over the summer, Goodwin said she and Museum curator Liz Miller visited Williams in his studio in downtown Charleston before his recent move to Charlotte, N.C. “We were able to see a few of the larger works as well as discuss the specifics for the exhibition as a whole,” she said. “Since that visit, Charles regularly sends us images of the paintings, and frequent phone calls, e-mails and text messages keep us connected to the project. During the summer studio visit, we were also able to discuss the design of the exhibition catalogue and happily our creative ideas meshed perfectly.”

Goodwin says Williams is a detail-oriented professional, “thinking about not just the individual works but also about how they work together to tell the story – and how the story will play out with the audience.”

Linda Ketron of ART WORKS in the Litchfield Exchange, says her history with the Williams family goes back more than 20 years, and she was one of his many early supporters in the local community. In fact, Ketron was one of a group that helped the young artist develop his portfolio and raise funds to use for tuition at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

“When Charles announced the upcoming show and the financial challenges he faced getting the pieces framed and transported for display, ART WORKS was planning its “Homecoming” show,” she said. “We dedicated the gallery’s commissions on sales toward the “Swim” exhibit and were able to send $500 to join the donations received from his private collectors, corporate sponsors and grant monies.”

Ketron is taken with the story behind this new exhibition.

“Charles has sent photos along with his moving story. His journey is one shared by many African Americans along the coastal communities. The Sandy Island boat tragedy of a few years back remains an open wound, though the local YMCA and other outreach efforts are making great strides in teaching swimming lessons to the young and old. I have imagined standing in one of the museum’s gallery rooms with these enormous paintings of unkind waters around me. The feelings of vulnerability and fear are palpable. I can hardly wait to see the exhibit in person.”

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