Gloria Ortiz-Hernández on Mark Williams

The question that comes to mind when looking at this drawing is, “How was it made?” The artist lists the materials as oil and alkyd and the surface as acid-free cardboard, but we are left to guess how the surface was marked and with what. Looking at it closely one can identify four slightly different forms repeated in an apparently random manner. It is obvious that the artist has used these unidentifiable objects to make footprints on the cardboard after dipping them in paint.

Here is the artist’s explanation of the process: “I use a variety of plastic elements, such as the top of a bottle, an empty spool of tape or whatever else is accessible to me in the studio–bits and pieces that pile up. I then make a puddle of paint on the palette, dip the object in it, and roll it on the cardboard. It sometimes skids, or jumps a little.”1

The first step in the making of this drawing was the selection of a surface and the object or objects to mark it. It is clear that both selections demand discrimination and judgment plus a loose conformity to the anticipated outcome as the artist then sees it. Once chosen, the object was not ordered so rigorously that its qualities would be
obscured by the will of the artist. On the other hand, the artist did not remain mute, thereby preventing the object from articulating the intention of the work on its own.

Williams clearly expresses this collaboration between artist and materials as he describes the simple act of selecting the object, picking it up, and holding it while rolling it on the board. He tells us that when the object hits the surface it “sometimes skids or jumps a little.” He feels this alteration in his hand and allows the skid to happen. Or not. It is he who sets the desired direction. The clarity of his assessment and his discrimination determine the position of the mark, the force of the footprint and, most importantly, the rhythm that will, in the end, carry the viewer’s eye from one element to the next, from beginning to end, comfortably.

What is most pleasing about this drawing is the simplicity of the composition. Williams “writes” with these objects, and each sentence has all the gradations typical of prose: the ordered, recurrent alteration of tall and short, small and large, slender and squatty. The arrangement mimics the modulations and rhythm typical of speech and writing. This harmonious grouping, essential in a true work of art, carries the eye from object to object in what feels like, and in fact is, a sure ride towards understanding.

  1. Telephone conversation with Mark Williams on August 10, 2010. []
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