Colorful, eye-popping, and quirky, Eye Fruit seems like the perfect title for this exhibition of work by Franklin Williams. Like a big bowl of succulent fruit, the colors catch your eye, beckon you to come closer, then you want to touch, but then again, maybe not …
Franklin Williams’ work defies easy categorization. What you’ll find in the gallery are stand-alone objects, soft sculptures that hang from the wall, as well as paintings and mixed-media works on canvas or paper. To create his complex and surreal compositions Williams uses acrylic paint, yarn, strips of paper, fabric, and other materials. In the resulting work he combines the sensibilities of folk art, craft, and decorative arts with his education and training in traditional fine arts such as painting and drawing.
The imagery that Williams portrays in his work is culled from deeply personal as well as universal narratives. Figurative elements are intermingled with abstract shapes that float in fields of repetitive patterns. The evocative and obscure stories contain symbols and layers of text, with hidden meanings that vaguely hint at contextual evidence.
This aggregation of ideas and processes reflects Williams’ journey through life. He came from a family of folk artists, crafters, and storytellers in Utah and learned to sew and stencil wall paper as a young child. Later, his education and travels brought in the influence of decorative patterns and motifs from other cultures around the world, including Islamic calligraphy, Chinese textiles, and Spanish ironwork. To summarize his work the artist states, “Everything I am is in my work.”
In an early piece, Blue Moment, from 1972, odd sea creatures swim among leafy, thorny branches in what looks at first to be mirror images, but are not. On the right side the blue decorative archway tilts, tossing the inner components askew. The central panels hang off the bottom edge, while the sides are flanked with thick blue borders containing red cell-like shapes embellished with bits of knotted yellow yarn.
Williams continues these motifs in later work. For example, in Self Portrait #5, 2015, the complexity of repetitive patterns remains but the fringe-like threads and stitching are now painted on, not actual yarn. Dot patterns reminiscent of Australian Indigenous artwork can be noted in the neck area, but also throughout the head shape suggesting the feel and look of textiles.
Franklin Williams, a Petaluma-based artist, is currently a professor of painting and drawing at California College of Arts in Oakland. His work has been recognized and exhibited in numerous locations throughout the country, including the seminal Funk art exhibition organized by Peter Selz at the Berkeley Art Museum in 1967.
Eye Fruit: The Art of Franklin Williams, curated by Susan Landauer, continues through August 27, 2017.
Art Museum of Sonoma County
425 Seventh Street, Santa Rosa
Originally published June 13, 2017, on the Sonoma County Tourism website, www.sonomacounty.com/blog-topics/art.