CHARLES WILLIAMS “Swim” in South Strand News

30 Jan

Sink or swim: Georgetonian conquers fears through his artwork

  • Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Show More

“In Seconds No. 4” by Charles E. Williams

Photos

Charles Williams is getting nervous. He grips his hands tighter together while he talks, causing his knuckles to whiten. His voice lowers and his speech slows. If one were to look closely, they may see a bead of sweat or two appear on his brow.

He’s talking about swimming, or rather his inability to swim, as he stands amongst four huge six-foot-by-six-foot paintings of the ocean.

The works are his, on display at the Franklin G. Burroughs — Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach in an exhibition titled “Swim: An Artist’s Journey.”

“This is me trying to look at what’s causing my fear. The water is alluring but deadly, and it has these human characteristics. Water has always been an intricate part of my pieces,” Williams said. “…For viewers, I’m just using swimming to represent me, but this is also for others to look at their fears and make steps toward becoming better individuals.”

For Williams, that journey, and his fear of water, started when the Georgetown native was 11 years old.

“When I was 11, I was taken under. I was jumping the waves with my cousin at the state park in Myrtle Beach,” he remembers.

From that point forward, the fear of water had a tight grip on Williams, causing him to have what he calls “accidents” every time he ventured into the water in the future.

The accidents – near drownings and panic attacks in the water – have continued all of Williams’ life, since the incident when he was 11 years old, to the swimming lessons he failed in high school, up to three years ago, the most recent event, when he had a panic attack after finding he couldn’t touch the bottom of a swimming pool.

“Swim” is an attempt to tackle his fears, and his next step in finally learning to swim.

His original idea for an exhibition at the museum was a bit different, but it evolved after museum staff asked him to make the works more personal.

“I thought this would be a good time to be brave enough to do a few water paintings. It was therapeutic in a way,” Williams said. “I love a challenge, and this is a life challenge for me.”

The exhibition opened on Jan. 15 and will close at the museum on April 23.

“It was a packed house,” Williams said of the opening. “I was really surprised and grateful.”

The crowd included friends, family, sponsors, collectors and even “people from high school when I was selling my work in Georgetown to raise money for college at SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design),” he said.

He first attended Georgetown High, but finished his degree at Carvers Bay High. In 2006 he graduated from SCAD and worked in graphic design briefly before becoming a fulltime painter in 2008.

Williams has had several solo exhibitions in Georgetown, Pawleys Island and Charleston; has been a part of 25 group exhibitions in cities across the U.S. including Atlanta, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.; and has won 11 awards and fellowships for his work.

“Swim” is a collection of 48 oil works – eight six-foot canvas paintings and 40 smaller studies, 30 of the daytime and 10 of nighttime. It took him eight months to complete them.

Standing next to the canvas works, Williams is almost as tall as they are.

“I even feel like these are too small,” he said. “I wanted to paint them as large as I could. It goes back to the person experiencing what I fear. I wanted the pieces to take over you.”

The exhibition is held in three rooms, which Williams described as a “cinematic spectrum from day to night.”

The first room is brightly lit and shows four canvas works titled “In Seconds.” Each shows a progression of the experience of drowning; from No. 1 to No. 4, the viewer is above the water, at the cusp of being under water, completely engulfed under water, and lastly drowning.

“In Seconds No. 4” depicts an 11-year-old Williams floating beneath the surface of the water.

“No. 4 is a significant piece. You know how people talk about dying and seeing the white light? Well I saw it,” Williams said. “I wanted this to reflect the idea of the white light. It’s warm, full of life, and this is me in a sort of ‘letting go’ pose.”

The center room features the study pieces, which are smaller works on paper and canvas.

The studies, which feature day and night images, lead into the final room that houses all four “Lost and Found” paintings.

Williams explains the works, which show portions of the ocean illuminated by light, surrounded by darkness: “Psychologically, I wanted to go back into my mind with a flashlight and find the monster. As a kid, I was also afraid of the dark, so this also helped me show, ‘Hey, I can tackle this fear.’”

Ocean sounds are playing in all of the rooms, which only adds to the feeling of becoming Williams, and he said the effect is particularly important in the “Lost and Found” room.

“I wanted to mimic what you can’t see,” he said, “and yet you can hear the sound of the water.”

To accomplish the effect, he used a flashlight and camera at the beach at night to gather images for inspiration. The lights in the room also mirror the experience, with dim lighting in the center and one spotlight aimed at each piece to mimic where the artist’s flashlight would have been.

Williams’ journey of exploration also took him beyond case studies and into research. It’s a stereotype that most blacks can’t swim, but the artist wanted to know more details. His research revealed that each year, for every one white child who dies from drowning, two to three black children die from it.

“In a way, I would like ‘Swim’ to be an awareness too. … I think it comes down to parents, and how they view the importance of swimming as a survival mechanism,” he said.

Williams called the experience “surreal” to have his first museum show at home along the Atlantic Ocean, a sentiment similar to making money from conquering his fears. Each of the larger canvases has a $10,000 price tag attached.

“As an artist, we already make a living off of putting ourselves out there,” Williams said. “I would encourage all artists to explore learning about themselves and illustrating that. It lets everyone see them innocently.”

Does the 31-year-old consider himself brave for conquering the project?

“Hell yeah, brave in many ways. I took a year off of working for commercial galleries to invest the time, research and process to create these,” Williams said, “but it was all worth it and I would do it again. And I will do it again.”

With a little less enthusiasm, but the same determination, he said the same of swimming: “I still fear the water, but this is my first step toward learning how to swim.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: