Aubrey Willliams: A Symposium at the University of Cambridge


Now and Coming Time: A Symposium

University of Cambridge

26 April 2014

In 2013, courtesy of the trustees of the Aubrey Williams estate and October Gallery, the English Faculty Library at the University of Cambridge installed two paintings by Aubrey Williams (1926-1990).

From one of his major series, The Olmec Maya (1985), the paintings Now & Coming Time II and III have acted as a concrete signal of an increase in recognition of the Caribbean and its cultures at Cambridge; their arrival just one of a series of events that have marked an expanded interest in Guyanese and Caribbean arts in Britain since the turn of the century.

This one-day symposium seeks to draw on this recent upsurge in attention, both to celebrate the presence of Williams’ paintings at Cambridge and to reflect on the impact of Caribbean artists, in all media, on the world. Click here to see the Program.

Aubrey Williams was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and began painting and drawing from the age of five. He joined the Working People’s Art Class whilst still at school, studying under E. R. Burrowes, a man he credited as ‘opening the Guyanese eyes to art’. A trained agronomist, his work took him to the north-west rainforest of Guyana, where he lived for two years amongst the indigenous Warrau people, a period which proved one of the most formative of his life and where, he said, “I started to understand what art really is”.


By 1952, when he returned to Georgetown at the age of twenty-six, Guyana was nearing the end of its time as a British colony and Williams sailed to London, initially on six months paid leave, to become a painter and began life drawing at St Martins School of Art. As a painter with detailed knowledge of flora and fauna, with personal experience of momentous political change, and with a growing interest in pre-Columbian cultures, he arrived in London with a unique visual and intellectual vocabulary.

From the early 1960s, Williams exhibited widely, winning awards and garnering high acclaim from a London art circuit enchanted by what Guy Brett calls “the heady interface between artistic innovation and trans-nationalism”. Williams’ paintings have always resisted classification, evolving through many distinct phases over the course of his career. From immaculately accomplished depictions of birds, to figurations, to explosive, vibrant abstracts, Williams drew influence from abstract expressionism, from Olmec, Maya, and Warrau imagery, from science fiction, from the symphonies and quartets of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and from artists such as Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Diego Rivera, Yves Klein and Rufino Tamayo.

Extract from full biography by The October Gallery

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