Through the brilliance of technology, artist Alice Williams is talking to me from her garden in Provence, France. It’s an hour before sunset, we’re discussing her upcoming show at Hagan Fine Art, and she is laughing, which she does a lot. Against her verdant surroundings, she glows, but it’s hard to tell if she is illuminated by the legendary Provençal light or she’s lit from within. I have to ask. “Alice, your paintings are so joyful. In these crazy times, how do you protect your joy and creativity?” She looks at me with pity, like I might not be all there. “What? Protect it?” And then she laughs again, like I might have been pulling her leg. That might be all you need to know about Alice Williams; to her, creativity, beauty, wonder and joy are so abundant the idea that one might need to defend a meager stash of it is ridiculous.
Williams’ juicy, vibrant paintings are in the post-impressionistic or fauvist style, characterized by vivid color, real-life subject matter and slightly distorted forms. By definition, which post-impressionists don’t like by the way, the style rebels against restrictions. Referring to post-impressionist artists such as Jean-Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, Les Fauves literally means “the wild beasts,” and I find Williams to be as delightfully, elegantly and tastefully unconventional in her approach to painting and enjoying life as her predecessors.
Williams was a teenager when she realized she saw things in a way other people didn’t, but it took her another decade to start taking art classes. Beginning in Atlanta, she desperately wanted to learn the basics, but in the ’70s, the basics weren’t to be had since abstract art was taking up most of the air in the art world at the time. Instead of the basics, Williams got a life-changing intensive with legendary Russian painters Constantin and Roman Chatov, 83 and 91, respectively. “I studied three hours a day, three days a week, for three years with them,” Williams says. “They were crusty, seasoned and to the point.” I ask if that was a difficult period in her life. “Oh my gosh, no. I was awestruck. It was chocolate cake and ice cream with cherries on top. I knew I was in the company of geniuses. I soaked it up,” she says.
After 15 years of painting portraits à la Chatov, Williams finally gave herself over to her true style. Today her work is infused with color, joy and playfulness. For me, the magic is in the way she captures light, especially in her interior paintings. Last year she and Hagan’s gallery director, Allison Hull, curated a show featuring the artist’s interior paintings of the historical home Villa Saint Louis, owned by Lourmarin local legend and Williams’ dear friend Bernadette. In the series, Williams captures the warm slant of afternoon sunlight on the terrace, the warm glow of a lamp in a cozy room, a perfectly rumpled bed in crisp morning light. Using only color and lines, she transports us into these comforting scenes. We want to be there and, somehow, we are in this lovely room, being friends with Bernadette.
Speaking of Bernadette, I’m hoping to learn what Williams will be showing when her exhibition opens this December at Hagan Fine Art. She laughs because she’s just as excited as we are to find out. “I want to do something spectacular,” she says. “Even after 50 years of painting, when I start a new one, I think this could possibly be the best painting I’ve ever done.” Interiors are her favorite subject matter, and Williams says we can expect to see more.
“Last year’s show featuring the Bernadette works was such a magical experience,” Hull says. “This show will take it even further. We want to showcase what post-impressionism and fauvism are in the modern era, and Alice is one of the few artists who paint in that style. The joy she puts in her brushstrokes, the inspiration of the history of those two eras, and how she is revising it and reinventing it at the same time as her own.”
Williams’ show opens in December in the gallery’s new location at 49 Archdale St. With the artist’s deep commitment to exploring light and beauty, there’s no doubt it will be spectacular. *
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.