I paint figures depicting individuals of varying ethnicities inhabiting timeless, invented, dream-like environments. I probe the psychological landscape of adolescence, blurring the lines between race, gender, and class.

(Philemona Williamson)

Opening September 16, 2017 at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM), Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives is the first museum retrospective of Montclair-based and nationally renowned contemporary artist Philemona Williamson. Primarily spotlighting her metaphorically rich, narrative paintings, the exhibition is accompanied by two site-specific installations illuminating the artist’s creative process. The exhibition will be on view through January 7, 2018.

In Roberts Gallery, a selection of 20 paintings spans Williamson’s career from 1988 to the present. Williamson’s dynamic paintings primarily feature figures of indeterminate age and ethnicities engaged in evocative actions fraught with mystery and universal significance. Often autobiographically inspired, the paintings do not focus on conveying a story, but rather present an underlying idea or emotion. Poetically titled, these works invite viewers to use their imaginations to interpret their open-ended narratives. The artist’s use of vibrant colors and firmly modeled yet generalized forms within timeless, invented spaces is the foundation for her skillful negotiation between metaphor and narrative.

In complement to these paintings, two site-specific installations reveal Williamson’s creative process. Full of pentimenti (traces of previous compositions), her large figurative paintings are based on a process of trial and error. She is inspired by her memories and a range of objects in her studio, including a lifelong fascination with dolls. In Laurie Art Stairway, In the Studio, a composite photograph on poplin, captures Williamson’s “Inspiration Wall” in her studio. In the Constable Rotunda gallery, four large abstracted dolls adopt and transform traditional topsy-turvy folk art dolls.

Philemona Williamson lives in Upper Montclair and maintains her studio in East Orange, NJ. She holds a BA from Bennington College and an MA from New York University. Nationally renowned, she has received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, a Pollock-Krasner Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in painting, among others. Williamson is represented by June Kelly Gallery in New York. Her work is in numerous private and public collections, including the Mint Museum of Art, Sheldon Museum of Art, and the Hampton University Art Museum. She has also taught at Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, and other venues.