James Brendan Williams


Another Tear in the Ocean, James Brendan Williams, 2013.

James Brendan Williams

by Pauline West

“…That’s why Monday burns like petroleum

when it sees me coming with my prison face,

      and as it goes by it howls like a wounded wheel,

                    and at evening its footsteps are filled with hot blood…”

                                                             -from Walking Around, by Pablo Neruda.


It had already been a long day when the artist from New York stood outside my studio, trying to figure out how best to interrupt me.  I had earplugs in, and we don’t have doors at Redux –  just burlap curtains- so there was nowhere to knock.  Finally, James Brendan Williams, who has the narrow, monastic intensity of Vincent van Gogh, lifted the curtains and simply came in the room.

He found me staring at the online thesaurus page for “swelling”.  I’d glazed over, and a train of little peach colored words were blinking on my laptop screen: “abscess”, “nodule”, “puff”, “enlargement”, “node”.

“Is it a good time to talk?” Williams said.  He’d been working on his installation in the main gallery all day, and earlier we’d made plans to have a chat for this article.

But I had been an irresponsible interviewer and hadn’t yet done my research, which was to include the excellent video, ABOUT SEEING: AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES BRENDAN WILLIAMS, by Stephanie Pau.

We made a new plan, which involved 1.) a hasty media cram and 2.) James Brendan Williams sitting on the small bench outside in the courtyard, waiting on me.  I didn’t know about the second part of the plan.  I thought he’d gone back to work in the main gallery, and so when I came searching out into the soft and cloudy bright light to find him sitting outside, quietly waiting, I felt like a Terrible Person.

However, Mr. Williams is a Calm and Focused Person, one who has worked hard to eliminate superfluous thoughts about expectations, definitions, and other such limiting objects.  He has sad eyes and a pointed, ruddy beard.  He stood when he saw me, and said hello.

We sat again to talk.  Williams nodded quietly at a house under construction across the street, as though not to startle it.  “That,” he said, “is exactly the kind of thing that gets me going.”   He is fascinated by transitions, particularly when the object in process is veiled.

“You know those sidewalk vendors you see in New York?  They’re everywhere, ubiquitous.  You stop seeing them.  But when it rains, they pull out all their coverings, to hide all their junk?  That, for me, is when it gets interesting.  Things under veils.  Hide a keys, patio speakers made to look like rocks-masquerading objects, you know.”

James Brendan William’s work, which often deals with draping or framing spaces we might otherwise overlook, pushes the viewer to recognize the present as situated in time and space.  “Walls and buildings can be non-neutral,” he says; part of the installation, and his show at Redux this Friday, Everything Left to Chant, explores this idea.  He’s sawed holes in the walls and framed them, and has re-purposed objects in unorthodox ways.

Before becoming a sculptor, Williams was a graphic designer.  He worked at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and eventually decided to apply the skills he’d developed as a graphic designer to making art installations.  “But it didn’t work, not at all,” he said.  “I had too many ideas about what the art should be, how it should be received. While I was in art school, I spent this year and a half that way, just- flustered, and failing, unlearning expectation-driven ways of thinking.”

He paused, gazing across the street at the deconstructed house.  “I like making things I don’t understand myself.  Then I can’t hold myself back.”

Williams collects ideas about forms and impressions and then tries to bring them, without translation, into reality, for others to be with.   There was a time when he took photographs of veiled objects: a street performer’s empty costume on a chair, mats draped over a railing- but Williams explained that lately he has been moving away from photography.

“I’m always thinking about the visual world.  I take these walks-these strolls, you know, like a flaneur?”

He explained: a flaneur does not take a walk so much as he idles along, taking pleasure in the streetscape.

With Everything Left to Chant, James Brendan Williams has brought the pleasure of strolling indoors.  Come and see.

Wake with the Light, James Brendan Williams, 2013.

Wake with the Light, James Brendan Williams, 2013.

Pointy Hat Parade, James Brendan Williams, 2013.

Pointy Hat Parade, James Brendan Williams, 2013.


Pauline West is a novelist and member of Redux Studios.  She is at work on a Southern Gothic about a young girl who opens a door between the lands of the living and the dead.

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