Robert Williams (artist)
Williams in 2007.
|Born||Robert L. Williams|
|Known for||Oil on canvas|
|Notable work||Appetite for Destruction|
Robert L. Williams (born March 2, 1943) is an American painter, cartoonist, and founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine. Williams was one of the group of artists who produced Zap Comix, along with other underground cartoonists, such as Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, and Gilbert Shelton. His mix of California car culture, cinematic apocalypticism, and film noir helped to create a new genre of psychedelic imagery.
Known collectors of his art include Nicolas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio, Artie Shaw, Debbie Harry, Anthony Kiedis, Von Dutch, Stanislav Szukalski, Ed Ruscha, and Timothy Leary. He currently lives in the San Fernando Valley in California with his wife Suzanne, who is also a professional artist.
At a very early age he displayed an interest in drawing and in painting with watercolors. He was enrolled in the Stark Military Academy in the first grade. Perhaps this led, later in life, to his collecting German Pickelhauben.
Williams was instilled at an early age with a love for car culture. His father owned The Parkmore, a drive-in restaurant, complete with carhops, which was frequented by hot rodders. Williams received his first car, a 1934 Ford five-window coupe, at 12 years of age as a gift from his father. References to his childhood environment can be seen throughout Williams's work, as well as in the custom hot rods which he would later build himself.
He became so skillful at painting specular reflection from chromed auto parts that he later drew the chrome parts for other comix artists, who drew the rest of the auto.
The Williams household was unstable, as his parents married each other a total of four times. During his early childhood, Williams was shuttled between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his father's home in Montgomery, Alabama. The parents' final separation occurred in 1956, after which 12-year-old Robert lived with his mother in Albuquerque. He became a delinquent youth, immersed in hot rods, high jinx, and street gangs; this led to his being expelled from public school in the 11th grade.
To avoid the possibility of a jail term, Williams moved to Los Angeles in 1963 at the age of 20. There he enrolled in art courses at Los Angeles City College, where he contributed artwork to the school's paper, The Collegiate. He also met Suzanne Chorna, his future wife, at this school.
After that, he briefly attended the California Institute of the Arts (formerly the Chouinard Art Institute), where he was branded an "illustrator" in derogatory fashion. Now married, Williams left the art school and became a professional artist in search of work. He worked for Black Belt magazine and designed containers for the Weyerhaeuser Corporation before he found his dream job in 1965 with Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.
In the late 1960s, while doing advertisements and graphics for Roth, Williams was also a productive oil painter. It was during this period that he created his "Super Cartoon" paintings, which included Appetite for Destruction and In the Land of Retinal Delights. These paintings were meticulously created in the style of the old masters, using hand-made paints and multiple layers of varnish. The "Super Cartoon" works sold well but were very time-consuming to produce, sometimes requiring more than a year.
When Roth's studio closed, Williams joined the Zap Comix collective of artists and flourished within the non-conformist, anti-establishment art movement of that time, along with R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso. In 1969 he created Coochy Cooty, his seminal underground comix antihero. His creation was unleashed in 1970 in Coochy Cooty Men's Comics and in Zap Comix #5 and is still alive today in Williams's oil paintings.
Many of Williams's comix and "Super Cartoon" paintings were included in his first book, The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams, which was published in 1982 by Rip Off Press. The title of the book was meant as a statement about the current highbrow tone of the art world, which was antithetical to Williams's artwork.
In the 1980s, Williams became involved with the punk rock movement and found his next audience. During this period, he published Zombie Mystery Paintings, which influenced and inspired a multitude of artists with its vibrant, sexy, and ultra-violent images. These works were done quickly, on rough canvas, and were sold via a waiting list due to heavy demand. In addition to Williams's books, the popularity of his work was established in avant-garde galleries, such as Billy Shire's La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 01 Gallery, and the Tamara Bane Gallery.
Visual Addiction was Williams's next book of paintings. The works it contained were rendered more tightly and began to contain detailed background elements and vignettes. This book also contained Williams's "Rubberneck Manifesto," which stated that:
Something dead in the street commands more measured units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas!
Williams published several more books as his work progressed in content, style, and size. His paintings moved from "zombie sex" to quantum mechanics and had sold-out shows on both coasts, generating demand for them from around the world. He influenced other artists and gave them a voice through publications such as Art? Alternatives in 1992 and, later, Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine.
Williams founded Juxtapoz in 1994; the magazine propelled to fame many new artists and rose to become one of the most-circulated art magazines. The year 1997 saw the publication of the retrospective Malicious Resplendence and his one-man show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York. Two more Shafrazi shows followed, in 2000 and 2003. These works were published in Through Prehensile Eyes in 2005.
His next one-man show was in 2009, once again at the Shafrazi Gallery; it was titled "Conceptual Realism: In the Service of the Hypothetical." A catalog of the same title was published. This exhibition moved to California State University, Northridge in 2010, where Williams provided a tour of the works, as well as a lecture defining his art movement, Colloquial or Exploratory Realism (Feral Art).
In 2010, Williams was busy with his inclusion in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and with the release of a feature-length documentary film about himself. This was titled Robert Williams, Mr. Bitchin and premiered on June 16, 2010, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it received a standing ovation. The film was produced by Rhino Films and Foundation Films and documents Williams's rise to fame from his car-culture and underground-comix roots.
In 2011, Williams took part in the Los Angeles Art Fair and delivered another lecture on his art movement. His work was also included in the "Two Schools of Cool" show at the Orange County Museum of Art.
Williams has participated with other artists in "The Art Boys," a venture which included such notables as Gary Panter, Matt Groening, The PIZZ, Mike Kelley, Neon Park, and Mark Mothersbaugh.
In 2015 Williams achieved a 51 year goal. After attending the Salvador Dali exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in 1964, Williams vowed to have his own work displayed in the same institution. This vision was realized in Robt. Williams: Slang Aesthetics which debuted from February 22nd thru April 19th, setting the highest recorded attendance at over 20,000 visitors.  The exhibition had new paintings and sculptures as well as a retrospective of past works. The show was accompanied by a catalog of the same name as well as a 20 year anniversary group show for JUXTAPOZ magazine. Thematically Williams postulates that slang is a valid form of communication:
...in fact, slang represents freedom from pretension allowing artists to function as they please.
And on the driving force of the Lowbrow/Pop Surrealism art movement:
It’s been called Lowbrow Art and Pop Surrealism and a bunch of different names, but it’s a feral art. It’s an art that raised itself in the wilderness.
In pop culture
Robert Williams has been referenced in the 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers song Mellowship Slinky In B Major from the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik:
…I'm so in love yes with an artist. Imagination, he's the smartest. Robert Williams, stroke and splatter, I attest to your gray matter. Living kings how true it rings.
These are just a few of my favorite things…
Williams art and personal Rat Rod were featured in the music video for the song Who Was in My Room Last Night? from the Butthole Surfers 1993 album Independent Worm Saloon.
The antics of Coochy Cooty and such paintings as Oscar Wilde in Leadville and Appetite for Destruction (which was featured as cover art on the Guns N' Roses album of the same name, until public outrage forced Geffen Records to move it to the inside sleeve) caused many a mini-furor. Here is Williams's response, excerpted from a 1992 interview:
I do not believe that my representation of females aids in their oppression. It is my artistic right to render the images of woman as my imagination sees fit. Remember, I will gladly accept the title "Bad Person" to continue my expression. In other words, nothing short of death will stop me from painting nekkid ladies ....
Of his paintings, Williams has stated:
My paintings are not designed to entertain you; they are meant to trap you, to hold you before them while you try to rationalize what elements of the picture are making you stand there.
Of the term "lowbrow," Williams steadfastly denies that the term was ever meant to define his work, saying that it was merely used in the title of his first book.
There was never any intention to make the title of my book the name of a fledging art movement but, over time, that seems to be what has transpired.
In a 2015 phone interview Williams stated:
The art movement I go by is Colloquial or Exploratory Realism...Feral Art.
- The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams, Last Gasp
- Zombie Mystery Paintings, Last Gasp
- Visual Addiction (out of print), Last Gasp
- Views from a Tortured Libido, Last Gasp
- Malicious Resplendence, Fantagraphics
- Hysteria in Remission, Fantagraphics
- Through Prehensile Eyes, Last Gasp
- The Hot Rod World of Robt. Williams, Motorbooks
- Conceptual Realism: In the Service of the Hypothetical, Fantagraphics
- Slang Aesthetics, Baby Tattoo Books
- Lowbrow Artworld
- Malicious Resplendence 1997
- власник: sketchv's channel (2010-02-22). "Robert Williams Show Tour CSUN 2010". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- власник: sketchv's channel. "Robert Williams Lecture 2010". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- власник: sketchv's channel. "Robert Williams: Mr Bitchin' Q&A". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- "Robert Williams Lifetime Achievement Award". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- Video on YouTube
- Fizz magazine #3 1995
- Motorbooty #3 1988
- "La Luz de Jesus Presents The Pizz". Laluzdejesus.com. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- Art? Alternatives #1 1992
- beinArt.org article on Robert Williams
- Phone interview with Williams on 08/05/2015 to address errors on this page.Sketch V interviewer
- OFFICIAL Robert Williams website
- "Lowbrow God", Robert Williams lecture from the L.A. Paint show at the Oakland Museum of California in 2008. YouTube video, requires Flash.
- "Abstract Leanings: The Hot Rod World of Robt. Williams", Gallery of some of Robert Williams' automobile related oil paintings.
- on YouTube Williams defines his art movement, Conceptual Realism.
- The History Of The Rat Rod, Part II: Robert Williams’ Eights & Aces