Fantastical Confusion:Alexis Williams
Heavily inspired by the occult and their spiritual imagination, Alexis Williams (she/her) creates on canvas realms constructed by their subconscious. I encountered King’s paintings with the kind of bewilderment we experience while piecing together a dream after waking up. King amuses our imaginations with ambiguous figures nestled in treetops, embracing on city sidewalks, and existing alongside the familiar elements of nature. They express unease, humor, and curiosity with a captivating color palette to match. King’s forthcoming solo exhibition, Remedial Dream, opens at Superposition Gallery this year.
What medium(s) do you work in?
I work primarily in figurative painting. Sometimes I draw.
Astrology, scientific theory, botany and folklore are all sources of inspiration for your work, with the titles of your paintings “Discovery of the great contingent biome beside the full moon in Aquarius” (2020) and “Aries (Psychic Knight)” (2020) being direct links to the occult. How do these areas of interest apply to your practice?
Part of my inclination as an artist, aside from emotional expression, is existential pondering, trying to make sense of this life experience. I recently became more influenced by astrology during a spiritual awakening when I understood its highly advanced and ancestral nature, and have gained an incredible amount of wisdom about myself from it. Cosmic and earthly cycles are interconnected—as above, so below. My astrological musings are intertwined with spiritual visions, dreams and emotional revelations as they appear in my work. I’m both intellectually and emotionally driven, and I view scientific theory as an intellectual approach to identifying the spirit world, which essentially ushers the material world.
Plants are high vibrational beings and will become more visible in my paintings because my art-making is both a devotional act and a way of drawing attention to things that I feel are of value. Mythology and folklore hold many lessons and are authentic reflections of human nature in their own right. The spiritual imagination and the occult are forms of historical documentation, and I don’t think they receive enough credit for defining our collective perception of the past and future.
How long have you been painting & drawing? How did you get started?
I started painting about three years ago with acrylic and gouache while in art school, but switched to oil soon after leaving. Ironically, I dreaded the medium and was encouraged to paint for a project by one of my studio professors. Then I fell in love and couldn’t stop. I’d be painting for nine hours straight on the weekends or have 15+ hour school days where I’d go to my morning class and stay in the studio past midnight. Most of my practice has been self-taught and within home spaces, so I’ve had lots of freedom to discover my niche at my own pace and develop a level of intimacy with my work that allows me to listen quietly for my inner voice.
When I look at your paintings, I think back to my time reading Alice in Wonderland as a child. A sense of fantastical confusion draws me in as did the Disney movie and book. Instead of wise caterpillars, this world features Black and Brown people floating through familiar urban spaces, but also some undefinable spaces as well. Can you provide some context on this realm you’ve created on canvas?
Fantastical confusion is a really lovely term. I’ve always been enchanted with fairytales, fantasy and otherworldliness from a young age. Those are the lenses through which I see. Creation is highly intuitive for me and I’m often not sure exactly what I’m making until after it’s been manifested, so it’s a process of discovery. The work decides for itself what it wants to be and becomes its own thing, separate from my original vision. The realms I create are constructions of my subconscious, even when they’re depictions of real spaces. They are like parallel dimensions. There will be wise caterpillars! I’m increasingly influenced by my spiritual observations. The landscapes and characters will gradually expand.
When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
As a Gemini moon, gathering research and always having something new to read is how I occupy much of my time. Going to the park regularly is super important for me to get grounded and recenter. I get drained very easily living in the city. When I feel the spark, I’ll write a poem or try a new recipe. It usually just depends on what the vibe is in the moment.
Who are some of your favorite artists and thinkers?
Who or what what has left an impact on you over the last few months?
Recently adopting two kittens has forced me to unravel the hierarchical ways of thinking that I’ve inherited from the Western world. They constantly amaze me. I learn so much from them. It’s the little things. On a spiritual level, cats are beautiful creatures and I’m interested to know more about why ancient Egyptians worshipped them.
How have you kept grounded and continued your practice in this moment of intense change?
Remaining observant of my surroundings, journaling and keeping a consistent flow of notes have helped me nurture my creativity within the past year as I’ve undergone lots of personal challenges and low points. When I remember the boundlessness of my creative potential, I feel more motivated to keep working as a form of self care.
What support systems do you wish were in place for Black artists?
I don’t believe that Black artists inherently need any kind of support. Perhaps because we’re creating within a capitalist system that negates our humanity, we are forced to seek support to obtain what we should already have, what already belongs to us.
Can you share something you’re proud of?
I’m proud of my younger self for engaging in so much cool shit and for being endlessly and existentially curious. I often feel that a major key to life is to follow the road map my younger self laid out for me. I’ve lost many parts of myself in these recent transformative years of adulthood and am on the journey to remembering the abundant complexity of who I am.
Where do you see yourself and your practice in the future?
Honoring the ancestors through sculptural painting, making herbal medicine and farming in the tropics.
What can we expect for your debut solo exhibition with Superposition Gallery this year?
All new work! Mixtures of humor, depression and awe. Gems from my memories and dreams. Experimentation with new materials. I’m dipping my toes in assemblage, so there will be a little of that as well.
Can you leave some parting advice for artists?
Pay no attention to what other people are doing and make what is natural to you. I’ve experienced lots of self doubt and went through a period of trying to locate my painting style within the larger art-historical canon in search of some illusion of legitimacy. I think that becoming confident in one’s artistic abilities is part of a holistic process of achieving self love and is an act of trust that unfolds at a different speed for everyone.