V

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Walter Williams

Butterflies #2, 1977

Color woodcut on paper

20.5" x 25"


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Butterflies #2

Painter and printmaker Walter Williams did not begin his career as an artist until relatively late in his life. During his thirties, after the Second World War, the GI Bill enabled Williams to study art at the Brooklyn Museum's school. In 1951, Williams enrolled in the school's four-year program, where he worked with artists Ben Shahn, Gregorio Prestopine, and Ruben Tam. Upon graduation, Williams was awarded a John Hay Whitney fellowship, which he used to travel to Mexico.

According to Bearden's and Henderson's History of African-American Artists, after four years of living in Mexico's racially liberal environment, Williams "felt the freedom from racial prejudice was essential for his further development..." Thus, since 1959, Williams has spent the majority of his time in Copenhagen and in 1979 officially became a Danish citizen.

While residing in Copenhagen, Williams's style shifted from realistic images of southern landscapes and cockfights such as the 1959 color woodcut Fighting Cock to idealized, surreal sunny landscapes depicting black children, butterflies, and flowers found in such works as Butterflies #2. In 1967, after visiting Williams in Europe, Driskell stated that Williams's new style represents a "dream world where the mind is at peace with nature and self."   T. F.

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