Laura Williams

Laura Williams: Unrequited.
Laura Williams: By The Rivers Of Babylon.

Laura Williams is from Auckland, New Zealand.

Since her first exhibition in Melbourne in 2013 she has had six solo shows, five group shows and undertaken numerous commissions. Her works feature in several large private art collections, three of which being in the Wallace Arts Trust collection.

On Instagram, Laura Williams goes by ‘takingthepastiche’. The moniker could hardly be more appropriate. Williams’ practice is grounded in pastiche, voraciously sampling art, design, and popular culture from different periods in time. A quick look a clutch of her paintings reveals a Hieronymus Bosch creature, a Staffordshire figurine, a Kawai Kanjiro vase and beefcake apparently lifted from a Bob Mizner pictorial. These elements are redeployed with whimsy, but Williams isn’t poking fun at any one of them. On the contrary, her paintings suggest a deep fondness for her sources. What she does do is take liberties and risks. She’s not afraid to load a brush with colour or a canvas with motifs, pushing her compositions right up to the brink without causing a total collapse.

Williams shows something of an irreverence for categories. Her rampant eclecticism tends to underscore the redundancy of separations between the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ arts, ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures. On the one hand, her works are neither predominantly decorative nor lacking in sophistication (as well as riffing on the work of well-known artists, she includes images of books, especially modernist classics). On the other hand, she is well-versed in the tradition of the autodidact in art. With their strongly linear style, inconsistent perspective, ebullient colour, and profuse vegetable and floral motifs, her paintings echo those produced by well-known amateurs like Henri Rousseau.

While eschewing the calculated intellectualism and inadvertent homogeneity Williams’ paintings engage with live and pressing issues. Her frequent use of gay male imagery – from reclining nudes by David Hockey to frolicking Adonises with ‘fluffed’ appendages – at once turns the male gaze on its head and signals the artist’s solidarity with LGBT. Her paintings often read like alternative histories. She inserts into visions of Arcadia or Eden scenes that are distinctly un-heteronormative. In doing so, she is not necessarily advocating for queerness in particular, but she highlights the fact that traditions and narratives are not neutral and need not be immutable. While they do not present a clearly delineated agenda, Williams’ paintings are undoubtedly political.