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.