January 19, 2011 at 10:05am
Louise Williams was well loved by the Olympia area arts community. She had a short but brilliant career as an artist, teacher, wife and mother. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2000, she continued to make art until shortly before her death in 2004.
Her husband, Tom Lineham, has put together a book of Williams' art. The book is Louise Rae Williams: Her Life and Work 1947-2004. I counted 96 full-color reproductions of her paintings in this book. The art is grouped chronologically and is interspersed with writings about her life, her children and grandchildren, her friends in the art community and the causes and concerns that often haunted her - love, sex, death, motherhood; the treatment of women and children in a male-dominated world; and her keen interest in mental illness (she had a son who was mentally ill).
When I moved to Olympia in 1988 my first foray into the local art world was a visit to the Marianne Partlow Gallery. Williams was working there at the time; she welcomed me, encouraged me and introduced me to other area artists. At the time she had recently completed a residency at the Ucross Foundation in Sheridan, Wyo., and had done a haunting series of portraits of the victims of the Green River killer. Most of her work from the 1980s was dark and disturbing. She painted dead cows seen on the side of the road. She painted bloated and distorted pictures of woman, many of which were unflinchingly and unflatteringly sexual.
There was a painting called Telling the Truth that depicted a woman with a gaping, toothy, re-lipped mouth and three heads as in motion photography capturing a fast-moving face (speaking out of both sides of her mouth at once). Similarly, there was one called Manchild showing a face with three eyes in a stark white, pasty face, and a pastel called Altarpiece depicting the wedding of a skeletal or ghostly couple - kind of funny and kind of scary. Many of the best works from these early years were pastels done on black paper. I have two of them that I traded for years ago, and I treasure them.
In the 1990s and going into the 2000s her imagery became softer, more decorative and sweeter. She was a grandmother by then, and children and family dominated her art. Reviewing an exhibition at Childhood's End Gallery in 2003 I wrote: "Williams' paintings have always been figurative, and they have always told stories; although the stories have never been explicit. Her earlier works were dark, strange, foreboding and often highly erotic. She has grown older, raised children and grandchildren, and bravely battled cancer, her paintings have become lighter, more joyful, more infused with love of humanity in general and family in particular."
For a retrospective of her work at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in 2003 Williams wrote: "Beauty's many faces have fascinated me, but the fragile truth I've found in representing the human soul and numinous spirit within has been the centerpiece of my work as an artist."
Louise Williams will long be missed. Thanks to her husband we now have this book of her art to remember her by. It is a limited edition book. There are not many copies available. While supplies last you may get yours by e-mailing Thomas Lineham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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