Born in Guyana in 1926, Aubrey Williams arrived in London in 1952 to study painting. Throughout his career he worked between the UK, US and Jamaica. The works in this display were painted in the 1970s and 1980s, an exceptionally creative period for Williams.
Williams was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and his interest in cosmology is evident in these works. He used cosmic and natural forms connected to the landscape, particularly imagery from Indigenous cultures of Central America and the Caribbean. The pre-colonial histories of the Olmec, Maya, Arawak and Carib peoples and their legacies were enduring concerns. In Williams’s paintings, these fragmented references hint at the region’s violent history of ecological and social devastation, the result of European invasions.
Additionally, this display includes three paintings from Williams’s series inspired by the music of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Williams sensed an apocalyptic quality within the music and felt his work reflected similar anxieties about the fate of the world. Both artists create works exploring the cycles of destruction and renewal within cosmological and human histories. Williams’s cross-cultural practice continues to resist simple classification.
This display reflects his engagement with international developments in abstraction and his enduring connection to ecology and expressive forms across time and place.
Tate Britain, until 2nd June ‘24. Free.
Image: Aubrey Williams, Olmec Maya - Now and Coming Time 1985. Tate. © The estate of Aubrey Williams.