Rez Williams: Redefining the familiar

"Man on Cell Phone" by Rez Williams.
Photo courtesy of Shepherd Fine ArtSpace

"Man on Cell Phone" by Rez Williams.

The fleet has arrived at Shephard Fine ArtSpace. The new gallery is featuring the oil paintings of Rez Williams, known for his striking paintings of New Bedford fishing boats.

West Tisbury resident Mr. Williams, a native of Long Island, N.Y., is a self-contained and cerebral man – he majored in aesthetics and philosophy at Union College, and taught life drawing and art history at Fairleigh Dickinson University – who paints fierce and visceral images – imposing hulls, animated seas, and dramatic skies. Where the artist whispers, his paintings shout.

Mr. Williams first visited the Vineyard in 1969, and in 1975 became a resident.

His paintings are utterly unique. Mr. Williams brings the viewer so close to the steel hulls they can smell the brine, hear the sound of them – boom, boom, boom – and sense their bulk and force.

His boats are portraits that reveal inner lives and energies; flattened shapes in surprising and intense hues that interlock to form complex patterns. While the details of rigging, fenders, equipment are realistically executed, his skies bleed colors, inventions of dots and dashes, and harbor waters break up into brilliant slashes. Mr. Williams brings representational into the lobby of abstract.

“‘The Man on the Cell Phone,’ and ‘Numbers Reflected’ are indicative of where I might head as far as abstraction,” he says. “I think my focus might be on close-ups of the surfaces — making the surface of the vessel and surfaces of the canvas more congruent.”

It is during the summer that he visits his subjects, taking close-up pictures from the dinghy of his 19-foot Corinthian sail boat.

In winter he paints, coating multiple canvases with gesso, and laying out the images in charcoal. Working in the guest house he had reverted back into a barn studio (his wife artist Lucy Mitchell works in the studio loft above his) he brings his varying-sized canvases to completion (his largest canvases are 54-inches by 72-inches).

Commenting on his own response to his subjects, he says, “If I weren’t surprised by what I see and then by what I do with it, I would put my brushes down,” and adds, “Otherwise what’s the point?”

Paintings by Rez Williams at Shephard Fine ArtSpace on exhibit through August 5. 8 Uncas Ave, Oak Bluffs Arts District. 508-696-8001.