June Kelly Gallery

Philemona Williamson

Williamson - The Light of the Gingko, 2023, Oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

The Light of The Gingko, 2023
il on canvas
60 x 72 inches

The June Kelly Gallery is delighted to present Philemona Williamson in her fourteenth exhibition with the gallery.  Recent Paintings reflects her longtime fascination with visual intrigues from personal to universal narratives between pubescent youth and the edginess of curiosity and uncertainty of adolescent maturity.  The exhibition will open at 166 Mercer Street on April 18 and remain on view until June 4.

Williamson writes, “Recent Paintings is an exploration of personal, professional, and social transition.  Anxiety, hope, curiosity, wonder, fear – the adolescent body becomes an intense crucible of passion and mystery as it experiences the unknown.”

Williamson’s gallery exhibitions have highlighted her concentration on pubertal development and its inevitable progression toward adulthood.  She portrays the accompanying emotional stages—ambiguity, hesitancy, and vulnerability.

While implications of the border between innocence and awareness, between pubescent youth and adolescent maturity blur, Williamson is not hesitant in depicting adolescent pensiveness, grappling with alienation and curiosity, amid commonplace tempests in the growth to maturity.

Williamson writes, “This series of paintings represents my continuing exploration of figures embodied in interpreted environments, with psychological and metaphorical consequences.  These adolescents are informed and challenged by the external events we encounter and try to make sense of them as individuals and as a community.  The paintings grapple with the struggle and promise of maintaining relationships because these bonds help you survive.  They explore the otherness and redefining of the self.  The figures command the front of the picture plane, demanding to be seen.  Apparent vulnerability is counterbalanced by the unexpected steadiness in taking an awkward stance.  The paintings reflect my transition experience, how one’s life takes a turn and a twist, and what we must hold dear amidst the tumult.”

In Williamson’s first gallery show in 1990, Paula Giddings, essayist in the exhibition brochure, wrote “ … profound, witty, surreal exploration of the human condition.  The World of Philemona Williamson is as fantasy-filled as a tropical dream, as startling as a dreamer’s free-fall.  It can be as primal as a child’s fear… as sobering as the loss of innocence.”

By the end of the decade, Williamson, an accomplished colorist, fits her paintings with defiant post-adolescent female figures who often appear to be in conflict, psychologically and socially, with others on the canvas and with the menacing environment in which they find themselves.  Vulnerable and awkward, yet aware and sensitive, searching for their identity. Williamson uses “grand events”—floods, catastrophic storms, volcanic disasters – as metaphors for psychological upheaval and tumult.

Art writer Cynthia Nadelman 2008 describes Williamson’s new work as “more like poems than stories.”  “By design, they have elements whose genesis Williamson can trace to current news or her own dreams, but in her hands, the implications grow.”  Nadelman continues, “As in dreams, there are the recurring characteristics that make Williamson’s paintings very much her own, yet also universal.

While Williamson’s work continues to teeter on the edge of satire, tradition, and innovation, it is of note that she derives some of her narratives from contemporary media conundrums.  Her depiction of blithe curiosity reflects less concern with examining life stages between adolescence and adulthood than with restless energy and uncertainty over social, cultural, and political matters that she feels are logical and crucial.  Williamson says she is an observer of human behavior.  While she has long been fascinated with the innocence and wonder
of pubescent youth and its inevitable progression toward adulthood, she finds this current culture yields a plethora of notions.  Her fabled energetic adolescent figures, raw with instinct, in the throes and entanglement of play, in the pause of curiosity or on the precipice of a happening while introducing figures that appear older, assertive, more secure in diverse scenarios, reflecting a solemnity and awareness beyond the immediacy of themselves. (Branching Eyes, 2023)

“These canvases are life theaters,” says Williamson, “inhabited by figures whose knowledge as children, adolescents, and adults crosses time.”  “One moment things are calm,” she says, “the next a storm appears.  The subjects in her paintings struggle to weigh the shifting layers of their experience.

Williamson, a native New Yorker, received a bachelor's degree from Bennington College and a master’s degree in painting from New York University.  Among her awards are a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.  In 2017, a retrospective, Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives, was organized by Montclair Art Museum, NJ, with a catalog and essay by chief curator Gail Stavitsky.  Her work has been shown in many one-person and group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad, including the IV Bienal International de Pintura en Cuenca, Ecuador, in 1994.  She is represented in numerous private and public collections, including The Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; Hampton University Museum, VA; Sheldon Art Museum, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; and AT&T.

Williamson’s first European solo exhibition, in 2023 at Galerie Semiose in Paris, France garnered numerous reviews from art critics and writers.  In 2022, she received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and she won the coveted Anonymous Was A Woman prize, Susan Unterberg grant program, New York


Click on thumbnail for larger image.

Branching Eyes - 2023

Mother's Lap - 2023


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