Antony Williams is among Britain’s leading figurative painters and before now has never made still life paintings continuously. Williams paints with egg tempera, a slow and exacting medium and perhaps one well suited to the prolonged and intense observation that characterises his work.
Over the years his admiration has ranged freely, from Bellini and Piero della Francesca through to Turner, Cezanne and Morandi. In terms of modern British art, Williams feels particularly stimulated by the still life paintings of Euan Uglow, who was close to William Coldstream and the painters of the Euston Road School. Uglow’s measured approach, aided by a metal instrument of his own design, has links with Williams’ intense urge to paint what his eyes see without using conventional perspective.
Extract form Memento Mori, an essay by the art historian and critic Richard Cork
An accumulation of objects in his studio play a crucial role in these paintings; fir cones and chestnuts from Chobham Common, a Dolls House from Kempton Racetrack Antiques Market, a sea urchin from Greece, a bird skeleton discovered in a boarded-up fireplace.
They are carefully composed, layered with sheets of patterned paper and fabrics. We see him playing with scale; a toy house dwarfed by a towering pinecone or a seed pod cramped in a dolls house room. There is an interplay of abstraction and figuration too, with geometric compositions disrupted by chestnuts shells or a dried agapanthus.
This collision of abstraction and figuration follows a trend found throughout Williams’ practice of combining diverse references with apparent ease. David Boyd Haycock described his style as ‘like a collision between David Hockney and the early Italian Renaissance master, Piero della Francesca’, while for others Lucian Freud seems to meet the early Flemish portraiture of Jan van Eyck.
The egg tempera medium lends itself to conveying the small-scale intensity in these still life paintings. They are made luminous and incandescent through his use of minute brush strokes, a semi-pointillist technique, that dance together on the canvas creating an unparalleled depth of colour. As with his portraits and landscapes, you are intensely aware of the surface detail. The art critic Martin Gayford describes seeing ‘more insistently perhaps than one does in life, the little marks of wear and tear, the furrows and wrinkles’.
Antony Williams trained at Farnham College of Art and Portsmouth University and is a member of the New English Art Club, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Pastel Society.
The overall meaning can surely be summed up by two poignant words: memento mori. Williams’ achievement in creating such heartfelt paintings shows that, despite everything that continues to afflict us during this pandemic nightmare, he has turned it into a fruitful time for art.
Richard Cork. 2020
‘Making Introductions’ is a series of five films produced in partnership with our artists and focuses on the techniques that stand at the core of their respective studio processes. In one fifteen-minute video we hope you will learn a little about one of our artists and a lot about their process.
Every masterpiece starts with a sketch, every journey with a step. It is often forgotten that art is as much a language as speaking. “Making Introductions” is about learning these different ways of communicating and being able to take part in the conversation.