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Peter Williams’ Black Universe at Luis De Jesus

Peter Williams, DNA, 2020, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches

Black Universe is an exhibition of new figurative and abstract work by artist Peter Williams, whose visually seductive paintings intertwine art historical references and allegory with current events and personal life experiences. Over the course of more than 45 years, Williams’ practice has actively confronted a multitude of subjects, including the oppressive social structures of white supremacy and discrimination​. Williams’ paintings present an uncensored perspective of dominant contemporary culture—challenging our desires, humor, and understanding of humanity.

In Black Universe, Williams tells an Afrofuturist tale of a brown-skinned race that escapes to outer space in search of new planet homes and an end to the cycles of oppression from which they have been subjected. The tale that Williams has envisioned is a journey of consciousness and conscience, a metaphor for the inner and outer travels that all of us must undertake to confront the truth about race and ourselves. The travelers in Black Universe use their bodies and minds to visit long-forgotten ancestral lands and spirits, learning to draw strength from their traditions while finding new ways to live in the present.

The formal qualities of Williams’ painting, such as surface, color, shape, and form, function purposefully in the artist’s work. Williams slips between abstraction and figuration, conveying simultaneous perceptual experiences. Color is his self-professed “gateway drug” that entices the viewer to engage with his paintings. He uses pattern and distortion as devices to portray the disruptive conditions that affect Black lives in society. His cartoonish characters may grab the viewer’s attention at first, but nothing can be taken at face value. An unfiltered network of activity resides in the layers beneath the surface.

Williams is also exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) that is organized and curated by Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator Larry Ossei-Mensah with independent curator Rebecca Mazzei. This exhibition highlights two bodies of work: the 2019 (ongoing) figurative “Black Exodus” series (on view at MOCAD) and “Narration and Transition,” a selection of abstract paintings (on view at Trinosophes). These exhibitions open on July 2 and will be on view through January 10, 2021.

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