#PIONEER – Robert Williams: the violent and kind pioneer

28.06.2018 | By Marco Mazzoni

The possibilities that I have had over the years in the artistic field are all the result of the conquests by people that came before me, because they were pioneers of a way of conceiving art that has overcome many barriers. This means that contemporary art has far more possibilities on a theoretical and practical level than in the past.

I spent my youth reading comics and trying to copy the various Venom, Spider-Man and Daredevil in the books that I had just bought at the local newsstand. I spent days trying to imitate the soft lines and improbable muscles. Years later, when I enrolled in the academy, I saw that the drawing styles of many of the students, unlike mine, was based on works of art and not on superheroes.

The thing was disheartening so I spent the first year at Brera trying to recover lost time, meticulously copying works of art and setting aside the comics.

I was able, after hours and hours of exercise, to achieve the sign and conception of the most academic, classical work. My drawings in this way could be appreciated by professors for their artistic value, and not shelved with the label of “illustrative”.

After the academy, however, I realized that some American artists aroused a different level of enthusiasm from the public and galleries with artworks that mixed the “high” with the “low”. Artists like Marcel Dzama, Mark Ryden and Audrey Kawasaki did not worry, as I did, to show clearly that they had devoured comics and graphic novels in large quantities, indeed they made it their strong point.

The paintings of these artists were perfectly contemporary because they were about themselves. They talked about their culture, what they had read and the music they had listened to, the movies they had seen and sometimes the toys they had played with. All they had to do was use elements considered to be “low” and take them to the “high” world of galleries and museums. Because the audience understands them perfectly, given that it had seen the same films and read the same comics: these artists speak to people who like themselves have had the same social and generational experiences.

While researching the subject I discovered that since the 70s several artists brilliantly used their experience as a cartoonist to create artwork that could be accepted in an art gallery. Then, with the advent of magazines like Juxtapoz Magazine, in the mid-90s this type of art was recognized in all respects and became a real movement.

The concept behind the works of these artists is simple: do not be ashamed of your culture. After all, to be an artist means to connote things from one’s point of view, which is determined by one’s own experiences and by what one has seen in their life. If you’ve spent years reading certain magazines, it’s only fair that they would influence your work.

The artist is a sponge and it is unnatural to try to adapt to the imposed canons. The pioneer of all this, and basically the person to whom I owe the possibilities I had, was Robert Williams.

Robert Williams is an American painter born in New Mexico in 1943.

Coming from the advertising world and loving to paint, his works since the mid-60s were a mix of the style of the old American masters (with blends of handmade oils and glazes) and subjects that came from the Cartoon world. In 1969 he joined the collective of artists Zap Comix and met the likes of Robert Crumb, one of the greatest cartoonists of all time.

But his popularity exploded in the 80s when Williams became interested in punk music. The Zombie Mystery Paintings (a catalog of colorful and violent scenes), that has influenced countless young artists and still influences them today, were published during this period.

All the works included in that book were sold with a waiting list because everyone wanted to hang a piece of his art in their home.

In 1994, he founded the magazine Juxtapoz Magazine, which presented new artists and galleries to the public.

I am proud to work with the galleries that from the beginning collaborated with him and to have been published in the magazine he founded.

After all, I wonder how many young people are aware of the fact that without him perhaps the art world would not have had such an openness, and therefore new possibilities.

I wonder how many young artists are aware of the fact that today they can paint what they want, including stealing from the world of comics and illustration, thanks to him. Because Williams was a violent and kind pioneer: violent for the images he created, that my mother would find chilling, kind because he is a quiet and generous man who is proud of his work.

Being pioneers may be easy, just do not worry about trying to follow common thinking, just believe in yourself so much as to hold your ideas up high, like a flag.

Sometimes a sentence is enough to understand what a pioneer really is, because it summarizes in a nutshell a life devoted to freedom:
Something dead in the street commands more measured units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas!