By Clara B. Jones
I was born into an educated family that valued politics, sports, and science over cultural pursuits. Aside from the furniture and accessories in my maternal grandparents’ home and my mother’s impeccable sense of fashion, I recall only one exposure to fine arts during my formative years, a class for “colored” children at the Richmond [VA] Museum of Art. As an undergraduate at Connecticut College for Women in the early 1960s, I registered for a required class, developing an interest in woodcuts and other prints.
My immersion in art did not occur until my mid-30s when Lee Hackett, a close male friend and art dealer, introduced me to the world swarming around Galerie St. Etienne on 57th Street in Manhattan. This small gem specialized in German and Austrian Expressionism, and I became familiar with the canons of Klimt, Kandinsky, Kokoshka, Köllwitz, and Schiele. This gallery, and the marble-topped bar in the nearby Parker Meridien Hotel, remain an obligatory visit whenever I return to the northeast from North Carolina.
Asheville is rapidly becoming known as a creative center, represented most prominently by its River Arts District housing more than 150 studios. Art is taken very seriously, indeed, in this city, situated in close proximity to Black Mountain College whose history as a magnet for art and the humanities is legendary. I might have expected to discover a struggling artist waiting tables at The Laughing Seed, but not at the Greenlife checkout counter.
Nonetheless, that is how Liz Williams and I first met … and, met, etc., until one afternoon I asked her to describe her activities beyond tofu, kale, and quinoa. It surprised and impressed me that Liz was able to display a business card bearing a URL to her website. Curiosity as much as genuine interest guided me to her internet page where I viewed impressive samples of her work. Thus, began a business as well as a personal relationship reinforced for more than a year by assignments to create graphs or other figures for my academic publications and by intermittent chats on the veranda of Greenlife on Merrimon Avenue. I am pleased to introduce Liz to the readership of WNC Woman who, I am certain, will find her as compelling as I do.
Clara B. Jones: Tell us something about your background and when you identified as an artist.
Liz Williams: I was born in Los Angeles 27 years ago. Traditional art has interested me since I was in elementary school, but my interest in digital photography and illustration began in the 11th grade. After living in Athens, Georgia, a town heavily influenced by music, I was encouraged to consider moving to Asheville since it is one of the few southern cities with a strong focus on the visual arts.
CBJ: Who is your favorite artist, and why?
LW: Lately, I have been working on relatively simple designs so I have been enjoying the work of Charley Harper for his vibrant illustrations of animals. I like Saul Bass for his influential minimalist graphic design work. But I don’t really have a favorite artist; my interests evolve constantly with the style of my work.
CBJ: When did you decide on Art as a profession?
LW: I decided to pursue a career as an artist in 2008 when I started dating my partner, Amanda Trader. She encouraged me to sell my work on Etsy.com, and I was hooked after the first sale. Since then, I have produced a website, sold in multiple online shops, and displayed my work in galleries and stores in Asheville. I have also decided to return to college to pursue a degree in Digital Media.
CBJ: Tell us about your biggest success … your biggest failure?
LW: I think that continuing to pursue my goal of being a self-sufficient, self-taught black female artist is my greatest success. As for failures, I wish that I had immersed myself in art history and techniques at an earlier age, but I am trying to make up for lost time.
CBJ: You’ve returned to college. Share something about that decision.
LW: I returned to college to learn more about graphic design skills. I know that in today’s market, artists and illustrators need some training in web design, HTML, and videography as “fallback” skills if sales of printed work do not provide a living wage.
CBJ: You and your partner, Amanda, sometimes create art communally. How does that process work?
LW: Amanda is an abstract artist and makes really cheerful, colorful prints. Sometimes we collaborate on a single piece … I’ll create an animal silhouette using Photoshop software and will merge a print of hers into the negative spaces of the piece.
CBJ: Where can we see your art in Asheville, and where can we purchase your work?
CBJ: Thanks for allowing us into your world for a moment, Liz. We wish you continued success.
Postscript: “The art I make is a Technicolor love letter to the world.” – Liz Williams
Liz Williams is a visual artist communicating her perceptions of the world, often with a wry perspective. Young, black female visual artists are among the most neglected in that universe of serious creators of images, including, painting, collage, print, performance, and sculpture. The most visible of these women in the early stages of their careers are Kara Walker, Mequitta Ahuja, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mohretu. No one would be surprised if Mohretu achieved the status and long-term success of the Haitian-American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a protegé of Andy Warhol, who pre-deceased the young male painter, tragically dead at the age of 28.
Walker has already achieved a significant following and standing, using black images but, at the same time, crossing lines of race, class, and gender. Both of these young women employ powerful images to depict the human condition (Walker) and human spaces (Mohretu), and Mohretu, whose techniques are reminiscent of Basquiat’s, creates monumental works with universal themes. Most of the artists listed above are represented by galleries in New York City, and all have Facebook pages. Liz Williams, working in Asheville, has serious competition, but, also, as a young visual artist of color, is part of a group increasing in size and popularity. Thematically, Liz’s work is of the sort to attract the cultural mainstream as well as consumers moving in marginal or alternative spaces. She is young, and any reader willing to invest the time to study her pieces will detect her accomplishments as well as potential still to be realized. Someday, Liz may have a patron and a studio, in the tradition of artists recognized for their creative output. She represents the best that Asheville has to offer culturally.
Katz V, Brody M, Creely R, Power K (2013) Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Women Painters of the Southeast: WomenPaintersSE.blogspot.com
Clara B. Jones is an academic. She can be contacted via e-mail, email@example.com, to arrange short-term, problem-focused coaching. She is a non-traditional mother, grandmother, friend, and acquaintance whose grounding philosophy is Intentional Living. Photo of Liz Williams viewing one of her works, shot by Amanda Trader. Photograph of author by Liz Williams, www.makemesomeart.com.