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Artist Feature: Sue Williams

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Feminist art inspiration: the bold, crass and abstract expressionist art from Sue Williams.

Williams in her Brooklyn studio.Photo: Boru O'Brien O'Connell

I first discovered Sue Williams at the Portland Art Museum. Her work, Testical Flange on the Green, was something I studied for what felt like at least an hour. The piece was so unique, so alluring, and so clearly erotic, that I had to see more of her work. This artist feature comes from my need to learn more about Williams and her work, and thusly share my discovery with you. Williams was born in 1954. The height of her prominent art career was during the 90's and early 2000's feminist art movement. Her work, which is directly inspired by her own life experiences as a victim of domestic and sexual violence, gives this soft spoken artist a direct and bold voice.

Sue Williams, Try to be more accommodating, 1991, Acrylic on canvas 15 x 18 inches

Her earlier work featured black and white cartoons. The graphic imagery, along- side the crass and often humorous text was clear and direct. This work, pictured to the right, Try to be more accommodating, is one of my favorites. It's a disturbing image, getting penetrated by penises in every possible orifice. There is a clear dark humor in this scene, and a very poignant message. Clearly the woman in the image can not become any more 'accommodating' without sacrificing her ability to live.

Here is another example of her earlier 'cartoon' style work.

Sue Williams, The Art World Can Suck My Proverbial Dick , 1992, Acrylic and enamel on canvas, 60 x 68 in

Sue Williams, Relax, 1992 Hydrocal, cast iron and graphite 15 x 10 x 14 inches

Rape is a very prominent theme in Williams work. And not in a subtle way. This work, pictured to the left, Relax, is one of the few sculptural works I could find from Williams. It's such a violent scene with a very clear message it almost makes you want to laugh. The kind of uncomfortable laugh you have to try and ease tension.

Sometime during the early 2000's Williams started experimenting with softer, more abstract art, which was very reflective to what was popular at the time.

Sue Williams, Activated Glowstick, 2000, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 82 x 131 7/8 in
Sue Williams, Bindweed, 2002, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 74 x 84 3/10 in

It's shortly after this abstract exploration that Williams begins to create their iconic abstracted line work that first attracted me to them as an artist. These works, which are often within a set color scheme, feature intertwining lines that are reminiscent of different body parts; often genitals and different sexual scenes. These works seem to evoke an eroticism and a more playful approach to the subject of sex than her earlier work.

Sue Williams Abstract Painter, 2002, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 44 1/8 x 54 in
Sue Williams,Bubbles 2003 Oil and acrylic on canvas 82 x 134 in
Sue Williams, Frequencies, 2006 Oil and acrylic on canvas, 52 × 62 in
Sue Williams, Bunnies, 2004, aquatint, 18 3/4 x 23 3/4 in

Sue Williams, New with Tags 2009 Oil and acrylic on canvas 52 x 42 x 1 7/8 in

I am going to end this post with a video lecture I found really interesting. Williams takes us on a visual journey though her art making:

Video Lecture

UCLA Department of Art Lectures: Sue Williams


Graphics: Janelle Kinsey

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