Mixed Media Rbt. Williams: Slang Aesthetics!
In the late 1960s, after the success of the self-published counterculture series Zap Comix, cartoonist Robert Crumb began to publish work by other artists. Among those is Robert Williams, born in Albuquerque in 1943, whose antihero Coochy Cooty made one of his earliest appearances on the pages of Zap. The first solo exhibition of Williams’ drawings and paintings in New Mexico, Robt. Williams: Slang Aesthetics! opens on Friday, Sept. 23, at the Center for Contemporary Arts (1050 Old Pecos Trail, 505-982-1338). The show includes works that date back to Williams’ days at Zap.
Although his work does not resemble Joseph Henry Sharp’s, it was Sharp’s 1914 painting The Stoic, in the collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art, that inspired Williams to become an artist. Williams grew up with a love of car culture, including hot rods, which led to his building his own custom jobs and joining the Rickshaws car club in Albuquerque in the 1950s. He was a troubled youth, involved in gangs, and was expelled from school in the 11th grade. He moved to Los Angeles and attended classes at the California Institute of the Arts, where his work was dismissed as “lowbrow,” a term he would come to promote and embrace. In the mid-’60s, he worked for custom car builder and Rat Fink creator Ed “Big Daddy” Roth as Roth’s art director. A painter as well as a cartoonist, Williams is also co-founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture
Magazine, a long-running publication started in 1994 to promote and celebrate underground and alternative art. Today, Juxtapoz has one of the largest circulations of any art journal in the U.S. Most of the more than 60 works on display in Robt. Williams: Slang
Aesthetics! were made between 1995 and the present. The exhibit was guestcurated by Meg Linton, former director of galleries and exhibitions for the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and the show travels to Indiana’s Fort Wayne Museum of Art in 2017. Williams and Linton give a gallery talk at CCA on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. CCA also screens the 2010 documentary Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin’ on Sunday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Williams and co-director Nancye Ferguson. The opening coincides with New Imagists
in the Southwest, an exhibit of works by 13 artists who work in PopSurrealist, street, and lowbrow art forms. The reception for both shows is at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. — Michael Abatemarco
Robert Williams: Wrangling the Firmament (detail), 2008, oil on canvas