Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sarah Williams at Galveston Art Center

Paris, 2011, oil, 24"x30".
My repost of an art review I did in Galveston in September 2011

This Saturday, October 8th, artist Sarah Williams will be showing her paintings at the Galveston Arts Center. I know what you're saying: "Galveston?!" But trust me, she is worth the trip. No one captures a desolate, lonely, rural setting better than Williams.

Sarah Williams’ paintings are the cinematic equivalent of an establishing shot where some kind of action is just about to occur. You can see and almost smell the tension in the air around these works. I hear dramatic music in my head, as I expectantly wait for the next dramatic moment. Being a painting, of course, that moment can never come, but the feeling still remains.

These paintings depict vacant lots, gas stations, parking lots, and car washes illuminated by unnatural lights: neon and fluorescent. The rest of the painting is bathed in the cold, dark blackness of the night sky. This dark seems to seep into every crack of the buildings, only held back temporarily by the ghostly glow of her lighting fixtures. “I paint nightscapes of familiar yet isolated and unremarkable buildings, rooms and scenes located in rural areas,” writes Williams. “The artistic language applied to slightly familiar yet hauntingly isolated areas permits me to transform the common place and make the insignificant, significant.” Even when Sarah paints a daytime landscape, the isolating element is represented by snow. This blanket of white often traps rural dwellers. The weather is the dramatic element and the farm houses and back streets seem to be the only trace of human activity.

I love to learn about an artist’s process, and I have been lucky enough to talk to Williams and see works in progress. Her paintings start out with a layer of orange on wood panel. The photographic references are from her home town in Missouri and the surrounding areas. She takes photographs of her familiar places with cheap disposable cameras to get the strange plays of light. I would imagine she uses digital cameras as well. Once she has the photo, she uses it as a reference to the painting and not an exact copy, like a photorealist work. She edits the scene by pushing areas into the dark and punching up the illumination of the lights.

Her recent shows at Marty Walker Gallery in Dallas and McMurtrey Gallery in Houston had a presence that overtook the gallery. Each painting is perfectly sized and seems to project its own stories. The feeling of isolation was very strong. I hear she had a museum show at Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, Missouri, and she was a finalist for the Hunting Art Prize. Make the drive to “Outside the County Seat,” at Galveston Arts Center and see Sarah Williams’ paintings.

For more images from the show, visit

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