Brittney Leeanne Williams (b. 1990, Pasadena, CA) transforms Southern Californian landscapes into what she calls “emotional landscapes: representations of psychological states, memories, and emotional ties,” by injecting her omnipresent, often red, folded figure into the architecture of the environment. Williams’s female forms serve as conduits to viewing a dimension of the artist’s spirit and her exploration of feminine and Black identities.
Williams is a Chicago-based artist, originally from Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami (Untitled Art Fair), London, Venice, Italy, Antwerp, Copenhagen, and Hong Kong, as well as in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. Williams attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2008-09). She is a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant recipient and a Luminarts Fellow. Williams’s artist residencies include Arts + Public Life (University of Chicago) and McColl Center for Art + Innovation, among others. Her work is included in the public collections of the Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA; the Domus Collection, Beijing, CN; Fundacion Medianoche0, Granada, ES; the MacArthur Foundation, Chicago, IL; and X Museum, Beijing, CN.
Brittney Leeanne Williams in the studio. Photo: Chris Edwards.
The bent posture of a semi-abstracted female silhouette dominates 15 of the 17 artworks by Brittney Leeanne Williams, currently on view at Alexander Berggruen [March 5–April 14, 2021]. This show of paintings and works on paper made 2020–2021 embodies the Chicago-based artist’s investigations into the physical and psychological exhaustion of being a black woman in the United States. Sensuously folded, a recurring figure’s posture has been simplified as a smooth rounded arc to indicate the back. A few simple curves imply the breast and belly, and introduce a void beneath them. Variations come from other formal components that energize and solidify the work. In addition to her frequent use of red on the figures, which the artist discusses in various interviews as referencing the pulsing lights of ambulances in Chicago, Williams also includes subtle line work, elements of the natural environment as setting, and positions of arms and legs that create the positive and negative spaces in the compositions.
In Williams’ work, the negative spaces are just as much a positive form of the bent figures. She implies that all the crevices and surfaces are deserving of her affection, and our attention.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on the work of Brittney Leeanne Williams and her unparalleled explorations of the human figure in relationship with the landscape. By working with a single posture, the contorted or bent over body, the Chicago-based artist speaks of psychological states as well as the misshapen and emotional experiences of being a woman. […] Whether its shape reflects in the mountain range in the background or it carries tree-tops, has the sun setting within or an ocean underneath, gets rained over, or dissolved in the wind, it becomes a powerful symbol of different scenarios in which women bend, especially on a psychological level.
“These works expand on my interest in bringing together expressionistic, almost symbolic landscapes with geometric picture planes, arcs, and borders,” the artist told Juxtapoz about the particular element she was exploring with these pieces. “They bow, bend, and break out of borders while their feet inch into the beyond.”
Brittney Leeanne Williams’ paintings depict figures in transformation and bodies subject to unseen pressures or forces. In Williams’ own words, the figures twist and knot themselves into emotional landscapes. These figurative and pictorial inversions create a body-space continuum. Their postures hold tensions that connect the present moment to centuries past.
The Chicago-based artist’s rich, vivid works see her employ a recurring red figure who plays host to the experiences, emotions and memories of women.
The bent back of Williams’ figures is integral, and for the artist it reveals a woman’s place in society, or at least in the stories Williams remembers being raised on. “I can see women emotionally, psychologically and physically being contorted in that way,” says the artist. “A woman bends to pick up her child, she bends in tiredness, in prayer, in love-making. I just think there’s something about this bent back that is really insightful about the woman’s experience.”
We are pleased to share with you a new essay, “Brittney Leeanne Williams: Black Women at/in the Bend,” written by New York-based curator, producer, and multidisciplinary artist Niama Safia Sandy. Through historical, societal, and spiritual lenses, Sandy explores Williams’s portrayal of the Black female experience and the portals Williams’s paintings open for Black women.
This essay was published on the occasion of Brittney Leeanne Williams: The Arch Is a Portal Is a Belly Is a Back (March 5-April 14, 2021) at Alexander Berggruen, NY.