On the morning of November 4th 2020, it was time to get the results…
… not from the election. It was time for another Art Renewal Center Salon.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Art Renewal Center Annual International Salon is among the world’s most prestigious juried competitions for creatives that specialize in drawing, painting, and sculpture in a classical, representational manner. Much like the 19th Century Parisian Salons it is modeled after, successful acceptance into the Salon can introduce your work to a wide world of publishers, curators, collectors, and galleries. The jurors of the Salon are among the most skilled craftsmen and notable art historians in the world.
My 2013 and 2017 entries to the Salon were rejected (in 2013, "Sorceress", and in 2017, "Sentinels", pictured). Those moments of disappointment had etched themselves into my brain. I recall scrolling through the names of painters, sculptors, and draftsmen and women who had their work stamped with the Salon seal of approval, a moment loaded with the anticipation, possibilities, and the hopes of my life’s work, and finding my name absent. Each failure resulted in a period of intermittent disappointment, jealously, and sulking. I stopped painting all together for a month or two. Following those counterproductive responses, however, there was always a period of reflection, focus, and a return to work.
On the morning of November 4th 2020, it was time to scroll the list of names again, and …. there I was! My adrenaline surged, and I took a photo of the computer screen and sent it to my wife, who was beginning her morning one floor below me. That feeling of elation, satisfaction, and achievement was unique, and made more powerful in light of my prior failures.
I couldn’t help but consider the painting that had crossed the proverbial finish line for me – Armed Couple. I recalled my prior Salon entries and wondered what was different about this one. With Sorceress, I was mindfully attempting to paint a more polished, graceful figure, and my 2017 entry (Sentinels) was a more personal work, my take on angels. I don't think that they're terrible pictures, but I can better see their shortcomings in hindsight.
I welcome viewers to perceive my pictures in any way they wish, but when I painted Armed Couple, my theme and personal motivation was paranoia. In Armed Couple, two nervous and desperate looking people aim pistols at unseen threats. Of the motif, I wrote that the individuals were, “souls who find themselves swirling in the aftermath of greed, madness, and cynicism.”
The brushwork on much of the painting is heavy impasto, thickly applied in portions, which is particularly helpful in lending a physical presence to figures. Controlled intensity is a challenge. At times during the creation of the picture, I feared it would get away from me.
I’m grateful for the semi-finalist selection by the panel of Jurors for the Imaginative Realism category, Jeannie Wilshire, Fred Ross, Julie Bell, and Dr. Vern Swanson.
When I was an undergraduate student studying art at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania over a decade ago, I was full of energy and purpose. It wasn’t visions of well attended gallery openings that drove me, although I must admit I entertained those fantasies along with my classmates more than once. No, my energy and purpose was derived from my anxiousness to create works of art that would make a difference in people’s lives.
As an adolescent I came to understand, and become appalled by, the violent and often cruel nature of mankind. As I became more skilled in drawing and painting, I strove to direct my creative energy towards bringing man’s violent nature into the light. I wanted to evoke strong feelings so that people would engage in discussions about human rights. What’s more, I dreamed that my paintings could be a voice for the countless innocent who were suffering from injustice and cruelty the world over.
That purpose became blurred as I studied art at the University. All too often, my fascination with the “isms” in art history became the focus of my work, and thus the barrier between the meaning of my pictures and their audiences. The human rights themes in my paintings became buried under layers of unnecessary impasto color, or made completely vague in distant, abstract paintings. It is little wonder that I became completely disillusioned with my own work for almost a year following my graduation from the University.
When I re-dedicated myself to the figure and narrative works at the New York Academy of Art in 2002, I didn’t allow myself to embrace the sort of high minded purposefulness that I had let myself indulge in as an undergraduate student for fears that the meaning, once again, would be obscured. It is only recently that I have come to realize that since I began my professional career in 2004, I have failed to identify the true purpose of my own paintings. Truly, with no understanding of my deep concern for humanity, my paintings transmit the disturbing illusion that I am in favor of indiscriminate persecution, perversion, and mindless violence.
Let me therefore state with all vigor that I wish for my work to be received as a call for compassion. In my paintings, I often portray man at his worst, but it is with a hope that we will all strive to find compassion in the spirit of mankind.
- Robert Dale Williams
Written in 2009 on the occasion of his first published monograph, Discovery.