The South Carolina native’s work permeates mental and societal barriers
A mentor, a support system and a community of people who were open-minded. That’s what Charlotte-based artist Charles Williams says saved his life.
Life saving in that his self-worth was actualized and he received the support he needed, which has led to a successful art career.
“I’m a 32-year-old African-American black man able to make a living solely through selling art,” Williams says.
With the help of his high school art teacher, Heath Hampton, Williams was guided and urged to put his art up in community spaces. From banks to frame shops to local stores, his work was there. He learned the business side of doing art before heading off to college.
He says the high school entrepreneurial venture taught him, “Okay, here’s how you present, here’s how you follow up,” he recalls. “Whether they bought something or not, I was encouraged [with], ‘you will be great, don’t give up.’ It really helped push me when things got tough and challenging.”
Art paid his way through the Savannah College of Art and Design — more than $30,000 annually at the time — during which he continued to send artwork back to his hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina and did commissions. He calls it a community investment. But it also served as a life investment that sustained his exploration into the depths of his psyche which now permeates his art. See, Williams almost drowned as a child. His artwork speaks to that.
Fear and vulnerability are the underlying themes to his latest exhibition, “Continuum.” The collection of work has two different showings at two different galleries in Charlotte: “Continuum/Day” April 1 at the New Gallery of Modern Art, and “Continuum/Night” is currently on view at the Ross Gallery at Central Piedmont Community College.
The collection of oceanscape oil paintings and photographs are his way of sharing his own insecurities and fears in a relatable way with the hopes of coming together, recognizing collective struggles and needs, and walking in unity. In the exhibitions, Williams navigates the human psyche and questions what it means to be free. He raises the question of whether true freedom can be had without overcoming fear.
“There is so much we can say and stand for, and so much that [is] not being said, and for those things art can show a vulnerable perspective,” he says. “The whole premise of the show is based on the acknowledgement of self. Being aware and okay [that] vulnerability will help you progress individually. One can acknowledge fears and hopefully overcome one step at a time, one moment at a time.”
There are three interactive pieces in the two shows:
— A short film on his studio process intertwined with past experiences alluding to spirituality — like his baptism at age 16 — will be rolling in the both gallery spaces.
— During “Continuum/Night” at the Ross Gallery, a QR code will be embedded in some of his larger pieces that’ll take to Williams’ journal entries and inspiration to the work.
— During “Continuum/Day” at The New Gallery, viewers will have the opportunity to acknowledge their own vulnerability by writing down their fears, which will be displayed in the show. This reflects Williams’ desire to involve the community and provide opportunities to listen.
Williams is creating a “Maimi-ish” atmosphere set by a DJ and adding the interactive elements to evoke the water motif throughout the two exhibits.
“For the students, I want them to fall in love with the night but then make their move into the daytime,” he says. “I know what going into a museum can feel like; [it’s] restrictive, [but] I want them to feel like it’s their space.”
Charles Williams: “Continuum/Day”
New Gallery of Modern Art
435 South Tryon Street, Ste 110, Charlotte, NC
April 1 to May 15
Opening reception: April 1, 5 to 8 p.m.
Charles Williams: “Continuum/Night”
Ross Gallery, Central Piedmont Community College
1206 Elizabeth Avenue, Charlotte, NC
March 14 to May 5
Artist lecture: April 14, 6 p.m.
Artist lecture reception: April 14, 7 p.m.