Among some of the works currently on view at George Billis Gallery are Sarah Williams’s oil paintings on panels. Characteristically, each is of modest size, illustrating structural feats that are predominantly Mid-Century, Midwestern Americana in origin. Execution is superior (approaching hyperrealism in a few examples), an evocative air of desolation pervades through the cinematic composition of each frame. Its hard not to ponder if these are an Ed Hopper nod? Or, stills from the Cohen brothers feature “No Country for Old Men”? Either way, the manner in which Williams knowingly illustrates the differing luminesce of artificial light, affectively shrouds each work in mystery. These landscapes are haunting scenes finessed into states of individual and complex ambiguity- this, in fact, being Williams’s premeditated outcome. As the artist states, “The viewer’s location is not implied because of the light source within the paintings. They must find their own way and decide their own approach.”
Walk through quickly and it feels like a Texas/Midwest glimpse from a car. The nocturnal leg of your road trip, a seemingly singular identity passes in a blur. At first, you may want to do just this (pass it all in a blur, that is). With a dismissive glance this seems to be a nice crack at photography. But alas, it’s the refractive glow of oil paint that you see, not that of a C-Print surface. Each of these works requires a stationary view, your eyes glide over the paintings and sojourn into its prospective plain. You’ve now arrived at an in-between time of year (first snow or last frost?), at an unknown time of night. The tension one may feel hinges on the absence, but evidentiary support, of human presence. In “Jackson County, 2013” fresh tire tracks embed the snowy pathway to the garage, an offshoot of the main quarters peaks just to the observer’s left of the frame. “Belle Avenue, 2013” pins the viewer in an opportune position, garnering a vantage point of the front door left ajar, as a fiery orange light continues to blaze in the rear window. Orbs cut through shadows as the nocturnal isolation persists.
These scenes self-described by Williams as “mundane,” become amplified with a particular appeal once the viewer has enacted their personal experiences upon it. As Williams notes, “Each viewer brings their own vantage point…(the works) prompts the viewers to draw upon the character and identity of their regional home.” For someone unfamiliar with icy Midwest terrains, these paintings carry across a callous, lonesome, even foreboding, air. When viewing these within the context of George Billis’ Southern California location, any other emotive experience is difficult, perhaps even a stretch, to channel. One thing is for certain Sarah Williams’s work eliminates the need for tremendous sensationalism, making these shadowy landscapes endlessly fascinating, full of projected assumptions.
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-Contributed by Bianca Guillen