Peter Williams, The Death of George Floyd, 2020, Oil on canvas, 48 in. x 60 in. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND LUIS DE JESUS LOS ANGELES.
Making things allows one to be a member of a group: of ideas, forms, awareness, sensitivities, none of which is ever in isolation. You can always feel the spirit of those fleeting thoughts and mega-disciplines which keep you in focus and feeling alive while having an exploration in paint. I have discussions with myself; I become the Other.
But these days are special — since my work has a political quotient and a responsibility. The root of my recent journey these last five years has been documenting black life and the repressive nature of the police and mass incarceration. The death of George Floyd hit me like a hammer; the view of him dying in front of my eyes meant I was not in isolation. I would need words and feelings and images to manifest my inner thoughts. The painting I made of that horrific event was published on the Forbes website today (6/9/2020). Again, I never felt in isolation; there was a life I needed to address.
The discipline one needs to remain out of isolation is huge; in my studio are all my peers and friends. Some call out to me for conversation and ideas. They come to me as thoughts and the research I do, choosing a color, building a composition. Struggling to find an answer, I know that being mindful is about awareness, self and body awareness. Nope, I’m not alone. Then there’s critical awareness of the subject — how to bend, fold and staple an idea. Well, I do admit, my partner also keeps me out of isolation with her creative abilities and thoughtful reflections.
Finally, there is the crazy vast love for chronicling this life I’m living now, hardly easy, often painful as a Black man. Whiteness has obliterated a subject that is huge — the lives of black people — and washes over centuries of history, not merely the enslaved, but the underbelly of white culture — bereft of empathy at times, downright vicious at others. But, this time, I am not alone.
Peter Williams holds a B.F.A. from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Currently based in Delaware, he lived in Detroit for seventeen years, where he taught at Wayne State University. Williams has received numerous awards, including a Ford fellowship, a McKnight Foundation fellowship, and grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Michigan Council for the Arts. His work is included in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.