ROBERT DALE WILLIAMS
"IT IS IMPORTANT TO ELIMINATE TIME AS AN ELEMENT IN YOUR PICTURES, IF ETERNITY IS WHAT YOU'RE AIMING FOR."
Robert Dale Williams (born in 1972) is an oil painter from Reading, Pennsylvania. He recalls his childhood in that industrial city as a time of wonder, when he was able to dive into his imagination and play without boundaries. With dreams of becoming a comic book illustrator, Robert spent countless hours drawing heroes and villains in battle, all from his vivid imagination. However, as he matured, his art started to turn towards more serious themes, and the reality of the cold, dark, and often violent world we all inhabit. Williams increasingly saw the world as a place of cruelty and division, where the powerful prey upon the weak, and the weak strive to survive and resist. Looking to express this view of the world, and drawing on inspiration from the Old Masters, Williams began painting in oils in 1992 at age 20. As the training required to produce dramatic, large-scale paintings in the manner of the Old Masters was scarce in the 1990’s, Williams began a decades-long journey of discovery that would see him seek out, learn from, and eventually exhibit beside some of the greatest living figurative painters in the world.
Since his studies with the internationally recognized Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum began in 2004, Robert’s work has been featured alongside other students of the contemporary master in a number of exhibitions. Williams included paintings in three Kitsch Annual exhibitions in Norway and Spain, and was included in the significant tome by Nerdrum, “Kitsch: More Than Art” in 2011. In 2013, three paintings by Williams were included in another published collection of works, “The Nerdrum School.”
"Your pictures need to speak to someone today, 500 years ago, and 500 years from now. Speak beyond time."
With his art, Williams plunges you into an intact view of a motionless reality. A world captured in a still moment where not much is said, but rather felt. A representation of what can only be acquired when nothing else is left…only that balanced composition between you and all, and that all and you. And you simply comprehend that reality is as far and as close as you want it to be. Within a reach, Williams is able to immerse you into the realization of what is, and there is no turning back.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you? Tell us about your beginnings, how were your first steps in the art world?
A. I don’t remember my first drawing, but I remember one of the first paintings I made that was displayed. I was in third grade, and we were given a project to draw horses. It was apparently a citywide competition. I remember the other students were trying to copy images of horses from photographs. I didn’t like being bound to photographs, even back then, so I painted running horses from my imagination. I won that competition, and my painting was displayed in my grade school lobby with a ribbon on it. That felt great, but I would’ve continued drawing regardless of the outcome of that competition – I was completely obsessed with creativity and my imagination. My teachers took notice, and I was bused to the local museum as a middle school student to participate in special art programs. When I started high school, I was placed in art classes with the senior students. It was challenging, but working to match the level of the older students just made me a stronger student.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. I feared that the life of an artist meant isolation. My awkwardness in social situations hadn’t been helped by my compulsive drawing habits as a teenager. Soon after graduating high school, I began a lifestyle of alternating between trying to live as a “normal” person, then diving back into drawing and painting with everything I had. That practice was detrimental to both aims – I wasn’t at jobs long enough to build a stable career, and I wasn’t painting enough to gain momentum in the art world. I couldn’t say, however, that I sacrificed a “normal” life for the life of a painter, because I didn’t have that life. It rejected me at every turn. Sometimes I think the mechanisms of life put you where you need to be. Incidentally, my fears were unfounded because I did find my life companion in 2006, and I’ve been married since 2011.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. I was absolutely taken with the Old Masters when I started my undergraduate studies. I loved Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Vincent van Gogh, and aimed my studies towards something that resembled the spirit of those influences. However, during the course of my education, I was actually steered away from my initial influences, and started to create surface oriented abstract art by the time I graduated from the university. A year following graduation, I found myself completely disconnected from my own work, and I knew I needed to return to what inspired me in the first place. I eventually sought out another school that could help me learn to paint in an Old Masterly style, and I learned about the New York Academy of Art Graduate School of Figurative Art. I attended the Academy from 2002 through 2004, and finally learned the techniques appropriate to approach larger scale painted compositions.
Q. Who are your biggest influences. Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I discovered the work of Odd Nerdrum as a student in the late 1990’s. His paintings, of course, are a revelation. Other painters that inspire me include Caravaggio, Goya, Waterhouse, Alma Tadema, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci. There are a large number of fantastic oil painters today, and I’m inspired by many of them. It is amazing that there is a much larger community of figurative painters than there was just twenty years ago.
Q. What does your art aim to say?
A. I am trying to get at something eternal with my pictures. It is important to eliminate time as an element in your pictures, if eternity is what you’re aiming for. Your pictures need to speak to someone today, 500 years ago, and 500 years from now. Speak beyond time.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Fortunately, I am never lonely. I live with my lovely wife, who is also a fantastic model.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. I enjoy spending time at the seaside when I can. The sand, sea, and air there inspires me so much I made an entire series of pictures dedicated to it.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. (same as above) – I am trying to get at something eternal with my pictures. It is important to eliminate time as an element in your pictures, if eternity is what you’re aiming for. Your pictures need to speak to someone today, 500 years ago, and 500 years from now. Speak beyond time.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. It is difficult to say because I think “success” means different things to different people. I have taken many steps on the mission I set out for myself all those years ago – I’ve made a few pictures that speak to people. For me, that is a success. I want to make many more that do the same.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. I was so fortunate to study with amazing instructors during my time at the New York Academy of Art. Two of them said amazing things that resonate with me to this day. During a critique of my paintings in my first year, I was feeling especially down and taxed by the demanding curriculum. My instructor, Dan Thompson, said that my work needed, “more everything.” I knew what he meant instantly – not just more color, more rendering, and more work injected into the paintings, but also more inspiration. The other amazing piece of advice I heard wasn’t exactly directed to me, but to a group of students at the Academy. Alyssa Monks, a teaching assistant at the time said, “your studies are what you make them.”
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Your studies are what you make them.