Brittney Leeanne Williams paints burning hot figures in scorching landscapes. Her practice explores trauma, grief and memory through the recurring motif of large, anonymous, red figures that loom over surreal spaces. Her work asks, “if grief was a place what would it look like?”.
In the paintings, grief is manifested as a red body and in a landscape. Williams draws on a childhood spent in the High Desert of California and the association of desert heat with the pain of loss to create the desolate terrain of grief. In The Bridge From Garden to Desert (2020), a figure stands between an arid landscape and a garden, which refers to her grandmother’s garden as a space of relief, rest and hope. The topography of the paintings are manifestations of the psyche, emotional experiences are transformed into emotional landscapes.
The motif of the red woman emerged after Williams’ returned to Chicago from her residency in Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 2017. Transitioning from the serenity of Maine to the noise of Chicago she noticed the red sirens of ambulances and how they altered the choreography of the street, making vehicles and pedestrians halt. Williams related the charged authority of the light to the Black female experience – how female members of her family led invisible lives while also being the bedrock of their families. The figures are often bent over in a pose of labour and exhaustion, referring to this invisible labour of nurturing others. The warm, vivid red transforms an otherwise hidden figure into a siren. The paintings radiate a palpable heat. She can no longer be ignored.
During quarantine, Williams has found herself drawn to bodies of water as sites of interruption. She describes her turn towards water imagery as an ice bath breaking a fever. The motif of the bent bodies has also evolved into contorted, intertwined bodies that embrace and pull away from each other. In more recent works, Williams explores the mother-daughter relationship as somewhere between embracing and wrestling. These are charged images that reduce the viewer to sensations. Whereas her earlier paintings have a tangible heat, with recent work like Naomi and Ruth-No Beginning and No End (2020), Williams would like us to hear the crunching of bones as well as the tender embrace.
Brittney Leeanne Williams (b.1990, Pasadena, California). Recent solo shows include; Dittmar Gallery, Northwestern University (2017); Zevitas Marcus, Los Angeles (2019). Recent group shows include Monique Meloche, Chicago (2019); PUBLIC gallery, London (2020); The Hole, New York (2020).
Upcoming exhibitions include a solo show at Mamoth Gallery, London in mid-November 2020 and a group show at Newchild, Antwerp in October 2020.