Artists Michelle Y. Williams and Ray Phillips have more in common than their Texas roots and a proclivity for the abstract. These occasional collaborators also share a stylistic genealogy that unites them aesthetically. Though on a surface level their similarities are more obvious than their differences, a deeper consideration of their work reveals each artist’s distinct individuality.
There is no doubt that Williams and Phillips both draw from the modern abstraction practices of the mid 20th century, specifically those that celebrated the materiality and tactility of paint on canvas. The thick mixtures of acrylic paint and incorporation of mixed media employed by both artists-in addition to Williams’s exclusive use of a palette knife as a painting tool-highlight the properties of the canvas itself, making it more than just a surface for imagery. As a self-taught artist, Williams in particular relies on her instinct for the creative process, which drives her work towards painterliness and anti-compositional order. Her Seismic series, for example, combines an earthy palette with bold overlays of white paint, producing a sense of depth that extends beyond the canvas. Williams, who also creates three-dimensional works in glass and metal, is acutely sensitive to the use of light. In Untitled 7-017, for example, she expertly simulates transparency through color choice and selective layering.
Like Williams, Phillips engages texture and depth to create a sense of random composition. But his calligraphic technique of marking the canvas separates him from Williams’s more subtle figuration. In his paintings, Phillips prominently uses mixed-media sources like newspaper and magazine texts and images to imply an underlying narrative. These creations reference our age of graphic arts and digital media. In fact, Phillips’s concurrent career in the digital graphics industry heavily informs many of his works, including Hope II, where texts in different typefaces fade behind boldly colored prints of popular imagery. While Phillips’s style is less restrained than Williams’s layered ambiguity, he is equally effective in projecting a contemporary reality both sophisticated and complex. Ultimately, these two Texans are connected by their fresh interpretations of a familiar modern sensibility.