There is an underlying purity to be found in Tess Williams’ resolutely contemporary conception of new abstraction. Yet, the surfaces of her paintings reveal something more layered: a gritty surface, exposed staples, the cutting and reconstructing of canvas and in some works delicate stitching. Traces of the artist’s mark lie visible on tactile planes in areas of peeling and scraped away pigment, imprinted marks, and calligraphic lines of pigment. Frayed and raw canvas are artfully combined with monochromatic areas of grey and black as well as lighter tones that refer to the human body. In each work the artist plays with the sculptural qualities of deconstructed canvas, pushing the medium further by creating a newly topographic surface. Williams notes: “This contrast explores the relationship between the male and female properties of materials, and how when juxtaposed, they can form a dynamic visual language.”
This Rauschenbergian approach is intertwined with the artist’s particularly contemporary engagement with her urban environment: “London is a major influence on my work. Much of my research work is photography of the city landscape - its flaws and its faults, and so the industrial and rugged aesthetic is derived from this urban life.”
Through a mastery of surface and composition, Williams’ painting imaginatively balance idioms from mid-century abstraction with contemporary urban references and the mark of the artist in the atelier. This virtuosic use of tone, texture and a sculptural sensibility of canvas, colour and form make Williams’ work a significant contribution to twenty-first century artistic reimagining of the tenets of abstraction.
Rosa JH Berland