(selected by Karen MacKinnon)
Dirty Linen on Line, 2003 - 2006
Sue Williams' provocative paintings blur the line between private and public, the real and the imagined. Defiantly rooted in the handmade and the tactile, their 'materiality is far from the aesthetic of the pixel and the monitor' (Sadie Plant). The main protagonists are female figures who appear to be surrogates for the self. Sometimes they mock themselves ironically, but always they speak about the failure of human connection. Their setting moves from the bedroom to the street to the lap dancing club, shifting from intimate relationships, street culture, binge drinking to the sex industry. Recurring themes of communication and negotiation constantly occur between lovers, men and women, strangers, siblings, parents and their children, acquaintances and friends. Throughout all of the works there is a desire to reveal the slippage between what is said, what is meant and what is understood. As Sue Griffith writes, 'this is art in a conversation with the self: it is human life as vibrant and discontented, connected and disconnected, personal and all too worryingly public'. (1)
Small Talk, High Heels was Williams' recent major solo exhibition curated by the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea. The exhibition included seven large scale paintings and a selection of around seventy drawings from the ongoing series 'Dirty Linen on Line'. Here, Karen MacKinnon, the exhibition's curator, provides an introduction to Williams' work.
Through painting and drawing Sue Williams explores her passionate and fluid responses to the human condition and the complexities of subjectivity. More specifically though not exclusively, her work explores the construction of femininity in the west in the context of a highly sophisticated consumerist culture. She speaks from her own personal memories and the day to day experiences of the world she observes around her, bringing into play observed relationships between women and between women and men, conversations overheard, silent signs and body language.
The work is also influenced by her keen observations of the media and its representations of women and men, and of new methods of communication, such as email and text. Within the work there is a need to inform, confront and provoke, and a desire to convey meaning at both political and private levels. One of the recurring themes in her work is relationships between women. In the recent series ironically entitled 'Wish you were Here' we are confronted by images of girls seemingly dressed as women or perhaps women dressed as girls. This deliberate confusion between child and adult creates a very definite edginess, a potent mix of vulnerability and aggression, heightened by the scrawled text and the expressive brush stokes.
Sometimes these seemingly small vulnerable figures appear to be inseparable, glowering at the viewer, confrontational and aggressive almost in their camaraderie. In another work, a figure in high heals and a tutu pulls the hair of another who grimaces in pain. Fantasy, reality, vulnerability, power, desire, longing, love, hate, pleasure and pain, clash and collide revealing our fractured sense of identity in contemporary culture. Through her work she attempts to deconstruct what we mean by femininity and feminism, and rather than fix such notions she encourages disparate, paradoxical, plural femininities and feminisms to emerge. Her work raises pertinent contemporary questions about where we find ourselves now, about the personal and the political, the individual and the ideological.
Karen MacKinnon, 2006.
Sue Williams (b. 1956, Cornwall) has exhibited in many exhibitions and residencies including the Site-ations Project in New York (2001), the Avesta Biennial, Sweden (2000) and the National Eisteddfod Wales (Gold Medal winner, 2000). In 2006 she was shortlisted for Artes Mundi 2, the Wales International Art Prize, along with artists Elija-Liisa Ahtila, Thomas Demand, Dias & Riedweg, Leandro Erlich, Subodh Gupta and Wu Chi-Tsung. The Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno, is now showing her solo exhibition Small Talk, High Heels which will tour to Zimbabwe and Johannesburg in 2007. She lives and works in Cardiff.
1. Sue Griffith, 'What's Up? The Work of Sue Williams', Small Talk, High Heels, Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea, 2006, p.12.
Sue Willams, Statement on Work
My new work is founded on the notion of the 'tit bits', a play with reality and fantasy from a feminine perspective, often subverting the truth through image and text, in both a serious and playful... read on
Sue Griffith, What's up? The Work of Sue Williams
According to theorists, we are entering the post-human age now it seems, where gendered and other human relationships will eventually be dispensed with as our interaction with technology morphs us... read on
Sadie Plant, Spunk and Punk
I find myself writing this piece for the simplest and the best of reasons: Sue Williams' work grabbed me, touched me, struck me as something potent and important when I first saw it. Its rawness, its... read on