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October 15 - November 12, 2005 at Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica

by Judith Christensen

“Annie Oakley,” 2005, acrylic
on wood panel, 29” diameter.

“1902 Opera Singer," no date, hand
cut paper stencil with acrylic..

“The System," 2005, acrylic
on wood panel, 36 x 24r.

“Tesla," 1997, mixed media
on paper, c. 24 x 18.

Strictly speaking, Bay Area artist Scott Williams is a painter. His primary medium is acrylic spray paint applied to wood panels, found materials, furniture, pages in artists’ books, retail signage and even cars. But the spirit of his work is closer to collage than it is to painting. Williams’ images are built out of pieces--not the glued bits of paper of traditional collage, but discrete fragments of paint, created by his repeated use of stencils.

Utilizing successive layering and offset registration, Williams builds backgrounds, segments of text and figurative imagery. Even though there are clearly distinguishable images--most often a face, sometimes a coyote, a cat or a building--there is an inescapable undercurrent in Williams’ work suggesting that experience essentially consists of a ceaseless flow of perceptions. We imagine that in agreement with the British philosopher David Hume, Williams views the mind as “a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.” This view of perception is also consistent with the density in Williams’ work. The background in “Annie Oakley,” for example, consists of at least half-a dozen layers that merge, producing retinal overload whether one attempts to focus on one or all of them.

For Williams, the stencil has become not simply the means to producing an image; it has become an end in itself. Williams’ stencil collection, including many hand-cut by the artist and others accumulated over a period of more than 20 years, is extensive. Through use, each stencil acquires a history, from the clearly visible most recent application, to the barely visible, soft-edge shadows, to other layers that are completely hidden. Beginning with an exhibit earlier this year, Williams now displays the stencils as independent pieces, not as tools utilized to produce other artwork.

Because of the repetition, off-registering and layering fragmentation is, for most of the pieces, dominant. Viewing the stencil in isolation allows another, equally inherent characteristic of Williams’ media to emerge: the relationship of the parts to the whole. For although a stencil breaks an image into disconnected bits and pieces, it is only successful if the pattern these bits and pieces form is recognizable as the framework of an image. If so, the mind’s associative powers complete the task.

In “Opera Singer in Ruins” and “Women and Staircase,” dotted-line rays of brilliant color in the former, and cell-like pastel splotches in that latter break up the continuity of the women’s faces. These patterned overlays suggest what Hume stated, that the self is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which. . .are in a perpetual flux and movement.” But we do recognize the faces as faces. Dark blue and black paint sprayed through the stencils delineates the faces’ features--strong eyebrows, eyes, nose and delicately full lips. Underneath, or perhaps in spite of, the fragmentation, the identity of a person comes together and stays together.

Both of these tendencies--towards completeness as well as towards disconnection--are integral to the experience of this work. Perhaps Williams, the artist and a person with epilepsy, is unusually conscious of the continuous presence of fragmentation. But none of us are immune. This tension in his work reflects the balancing we all do --some days better than others.