Fred Willams (Australian, 19271982)
Oil on canvas; 59 7/8 x 72 in. (152.1 x 182.9 cm)
Gift of Lyn Watson Williams, 1992 (1992.312.4)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VI$COPY, Australia
The Australian-born artist Fred Williams received his first artistic training at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne, where he learned the traditional studio methods of drawing from the human figure. He traveled to England for several years of further study in London, where he also visited various collections of modern and contemporary art in the city's museums and galleries. Williams returned to Australia in 1957 and adopted the landscape of his native country as the central subject of his art. He was initially influenced by the landscape painting of the French modernists Cézanne and Matisse, but eventually he developed his own style by simplifying his subject into abstract forms.
Working outdoors, Williams painted scenes inspired by various regions and views of the Australian continent, including the dense forests of the bush, desert areas, coastal plains and hills, and the seashore. His large-scale works of the 1970s and '80s were influenced by the "color-field" style of painting that emerged from Abstract Expressionism. Like the major practitioners of this style, who included Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, Williams tended to work in large formats, with broad masses of color and subtle differentiations of texture.
This landscape, Winjana Gorge, Kimberley, I is Williams' depiction of a uniquely Australian natural motif. The Kimberley is the most northwestern region of Australia, a rugged and sparsely wooded plateau, and Winjana Gorge, a dramatic rise of limestone cliffs, was carved out over prehistoric time by the passage of the Lennard River. As he did for other depictions of the Australian landscape, Williams traveled to the Kimberley and surveyed the land from an airplane, making sketches and taking photographs. Returning to the studio, he developed his aerial observations of the Winjana Gorge into this finished painting. The arid surfaces of the cliffs, spotted with clusters of vegetation, the whitish streak of the riverbed, and the yellowish earth surrounding the gorge are presented to us in a bird's-eye view, like a vibrant and painterly map.