When viewing Laura Williams’s paintings one has the sensation of wandering around inside the artist’s head. The interiors that make up Williams’ Thinly Veiled series are reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom paintings, having undergone a kind of makeover á la Virginia Woolf, with van Gogh’s modest interiors replaced by a series of abundantly decorated spaces.
Williams’ acknowledges these works are ‘thinly veiled’ visual autobiographies, in that they present a kind of “stream of consciousness depicting a fragmented journey through relinquishment, estrangement, grief and comprehension.” Made up of Williams’ own lexicon of images, pattern, and meaning, they are intensely personal, but so generous and familiar are they in their visual references that they welcome the viewer to share in these interior spaces and luxuriate in their surroundings. The artist’s adoration of Henry Darger (1892 -1973) and Roger Brown (1941- 1997) is particularly evident in Thinly Veiled. “Brown was a genius of melding aberrant imagery with humour, Darger was both twee and unsettling at the same time and both created their own private language of symbols and visual references”, says Williams.
Wallpapers and soft furnishings feature vintage inspired prints, floors are covered in densely patterned rugs, and on the walls are hung all manner of works by artists including van Gogh, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Henri Rosseau, Rene Magritte, Suzanne Valadon, and Artemisia Gentileschi. Alongside the paintings hang crucifixes and paintings of various saints, reflecting Williams’ upbringing in a strongly patriarchal and Catholic household where she attended convent school. Williams notes, “I have always painted saints since I started to paint in 2011, most often St Francis of Assisi. But, since 2019 I have focused on reenvisaging the indoctrination of my 1970s Catholic education alongside my non neurotypical/literal interpretation/reaction to biblical representations of women, the role of women in the Catholic Church and stories of female saints.”
Williams artfully critiques religion, sexual repression and gender inequality, and the representation of women and men throughout the history of both art and literature in a way Woolf would no doubt approve, whose extended essay A Room of One’s Own (1929) explored gendered social injustices and women's lack of free and artistic expression.
The Dawning III (2022) signals as awakening. The work depicts a pair of liberated Eves dancing and reclining in the Garden of Eden, having picnicked on apples from the tree of knowledge, around which snakes are benignly wrapped. In the background lounges a Lolita-esque character, absorbed in reading a book, another nod to Williams ardent love of literature and narrative. “The main premise throughout all my work is the melding of memory into the imagined worlds I want to live in. It was a life changing moment when I had the realisation that I could paint things any way I liked: that I controlled the narrative within my paintings”, says Williams.
In Cain and Abel Montage: The Honeymoon Period (2022) and Into the Void: Night of the Loathsome Pelican (2022) nude male figures frolic across bucolic landscapes, with images sourced from photographs from American photographer and filmmaker Bob Mizer (1922 – 1992). Correspondingly, Williams’ Amuse Bouche paintings playfully refer to the liberation of female sexuality and budding desire, which the artist describes as “an innocent foray with erotic folk.”