Tag Archives: Georgetown

CHARLES WILLIAMS “Swim” in South Strand News

30 Jan

Sink or swim: Georgetonian conquers fears through his artwork

  • Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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“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.”

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CHARLES WILLIAMS featured in Azalea Magazine

11 Mar

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charles williams azalea

After Spreading His Wings, Artist Charles Williams Longed To Return To His Roots. So He Painted His Way Home.

When I met Charles Williams, he was tucked into a small studio space at Redux Contemporary Art Center, working on a commissioned landscape piece. He invited me in, and asked if he could continue painting as we talked. I eagerly agreed; this offered me the opportunity to watch him transform a blank wooden canvas into a brilliant Lowcountry panorama.

Born and raised in Georgetown, SC, William’s talent was harnessed from a very young age. His parents were aggressively instrumental in his success.

“My mother noticed I was pretty good at coloring within the lines of my Ninja Turtle® coloring book,” Williams says, smiling. “She always had me drawing with a pen and pad.”

In elementary school, his mother made arrangements with the school’s art teacher to keep Charles after school, working on different art techniques, from colored pencil to water color
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William’s mother wasn’t the only one supportive of his talent. On his first day of high school, his father visited the art teacher, Heath Hampton, and asked him what he could do for his son. Hampton took Williams under his wing, arranging private lessons with a local painter. There, he learned advanced art techniques, as well as the business side of the art world. When most kids were out partying or heading to Myrtle Beach for the weekend, Williams was at home painting, and with Hampton’s help, Williams received a scholarship to (SCAD) Savannah Collage of Art and Design.

“I switched majors back and forth”, Williams says. “They offered so much; I wanted to do it all.”
Williams graduated in 2006, with a major in advertising and a minor in fine arts. He got a job in Tampa, FL, with the Publix Corporation®, working on the design team for their Greenwise® product line. Although he found success with Publix®, Williams missed home.

“I was eight hours from home, so I started painting it,” Williams says.

He painted scenes of the Lowcountry, reliving memories of his life on the Black River. Williams submitted his work to a Tampa Gallery, and was accepted into a group show. Little did he know that a late night mistake would come to shape the signature of his work.

While working on a small painting for the group show, he spilled a cup of water on the canvas, making the paint bleed to the bottom. He put it aside and forgot about it. When the gallery director stop by his studio to check on his progress, she saw the painting, loved the drip look, and asked to have it.

Williams sold out his first two gallery shows, and things snowballed from there. Selling numerous paintings, including private and corporate commissions, Williams quit his job at Publix® to begin painting full time.
In 2009, Williams was accepted into the Hudson River Fellowship in New York, where 32 artists out of 5,000 applicants were invited to walk the trails of master landscape artists, and study the anatomy of nature.
“It was like a painting boot camp,” Williams says.

After completing the Hudson River Fellowship, Williams knew what he really wanted, so he moved back to Charleston. On a visit to the Robert Lange Gallery, he told the owner that he would one day be featured there. She smiled, gave him a hug, and told him to submit his work. After five “no’s,” the Robert Lange Gallery gave him a shot at a group show, where he sold every one of his paintings. He was given more shows, which also sold out. Williams was finally invited to join the gallery.

On top of managing the stresses that come with being a full-time artist, Charles Williams also gives back to the community that has given so much to him.

“I am always thinking of the kids in the classrooms who have talent, but don’t know how, or may not have the resources to cultivate that talent,” Williams says. “I want to give them the opportunities and experiences that my teachers offered me.”

In an effort to help foster creative students in multiple art forms, Williams formed the C.E. Williams Collaborative, offering what he has learned to middle and high school students interested in pursuing a career in the arts. He passes along the foundations and technical attributes of art, teaches students how to articulate their work, and how to build relationships with collectors.

“They are receiving all the important aspects of being a complete artist,” Williams says.

The C.E. Williams Collaborative recently held it first student art exhibition at Robert Lange Studios, giving the nine students of the Georgetown and Charleston County collaborative the opportunity to show their work.

“They have some killer work,” he says, smiling.

Today, Williams is working on a new series of paintings. He has a museum exhibition scheduled for the Spring 2015, at Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, where he will show works that reflect an issue dear to his heart.

“I have had multiple near drowning incidents in my past,” he says. “I have taken swimming lesson, but never been a confident swimmer.”

Williams has been researching the history of swimming, and how slavery and other cultural influences might have affected the African-American community’s relationship with swimming. Through his research, he found that for every Caucasian drowning, there are three African-American drownings.

“We hear all about deaths that result from drugs and violence,” Williams says. “But drownings are like a silent killer in this community.”

For William’s upcoming museum exhibition, he is working on a (social awareness) series of paintings pairing objects such as shoes and jewelry, items he feels the African-American community sees as status symbols, with water environments like pools and shorelines. He hopes this series will shine a light on the importance of focusing on water safety rather than the false security of material things.

Charles Williams truly embodies the spirit of art. Not only is he a master of the techniques that make his work so captivating, but he also processes humility and compassion that shows vibrantly in his work away from the canvas. He has both literally and figuratively taken the scenic route to where he is today…a place where he can create his own landscape.

By Will Rizzo