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Bruce Williams painting (© Bruce Williams).

Bruce Williams painting (© Bruce Williams).

Big, bold, atmospheric paintings

Bruce Williams is an artist who likes to paint large and say it as he sees it. HOT reporter, Lauris Morgan-Griffiths, went along to meet his bold, dramatic paintings on show at the Stables Art Gallery.

On entering the Stables Art Gallery the first impression is a bit of a shocker as large, striking faces stare down at me. Bruce Williams is not frightened of the impact, the size, the scale nor the power of the strong colours – blacks and deep reds, blues. He does not paint small, nor does he paint pretty pictures.

These are certainly arresting images. Walking around looking eye to eye with these great characters, becoming acquainted – making friends with them – I really warmed to them.  There are landscapes and still lives as well as portraits, but the way he paints, faces look like landscapes in their own right.

Looking out © Bruce Williams

Looking out.

These paintings are strong meat; images you won’t forget. It feels that Bruce Williams had got under the skin of his sitter; he paints the person, their spirit; he gets down to the core of their personality, digging down through the layers of experience, portraying a life lived.

Bruce paints intuitively; on the whole images emerge, almost of their own volition. He normally knows the person but sometimes during the session he might discover more. But even without any knowledge, “I seem to bring things out of them that I don’t really know about,” he says. “It seems to be instinctive.”

Some certainly suggest a dark side. He builds up layer on layer of paint, blobs, globules of oil protrude from the canvas giving a structural 3-D, muscular effect.  There are two of Joe Fearn, a HOT reporter until he moved north. I know Joe was very pleased with them. There is a palpable honesty and empathy about them, as with all Bruce’s work. He says, “I didn’t know Joe well but I l know life had not always been easy.” That and his humanity is what Bruce has  captured.

Man Reading © Bruce Williams

Man Reading.

Then there are other paintings where the subject, the colours and painting technique are gentler. He normally takes three or four months, working simultaneously with different canvases, but these quieter paintings were completed quickly. A man reading, solitary, lost in another world. “That took about two hours and about 20 years’ experience. I saw something in that portrait and I was full of excitement from the beginning to the end. And that is quite rare”.

In a different vein, there are two wonderful portraits of his 21-year-old daughter sleeping. In pinks and mauves he has captured that private time and the private face that no one normally sees, when the face falls away, relaxed, lost in dreams, the body curled amongst a tumble of bedding.

Self portrait © Bruce Williams


“Where there is no one around to sit for me, I paint myself.” There are three very different self-portraits. Dark, light and one only reminiscent of Van Gogh due to the rusty colouring. I ask him about the use of colours but it seems he is such an instinctive painter with both colours and techniques that it is something he simply ‘does’ – and probably does not want to examine his process too closely.

“I don’t consider myself a thinker, more like a labourer going to work, and hope in the process that something will happen. When I start to paint the image evolves. I don’t know what is going to happen.” He subscribes to what the artist David Bomberg has said, that the integrity of the painter shines through if he’s honest with himself. “I aim to be honest but at the same time I want chance to have its place. I take risks and when something isn’t working, a painting can change within seconds.”

These are not paintings that will go quietly into the night.  Nor would you want them to. They leave a strong impression; they burn themselves onto the retina and into the memory. Go and be shocked and surprised and hopefully fall under their spell. 

You can see more of Bruce Williams’ pictures here.  Previous article by Joe Fearn.

The exhibition at the Stables Art Gallery, The Bourne, Hastings TN34 3BD continues until November 30. Open 10.30 am–2.00 pm, 6.00–8.00 pm.


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Posted 17:21 Friday, Nov 1, 2013 In: Visual Arts

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