Oh, the stories Roger Williams can tell.
The 67-year-old deconstructivist artist has worked for the studios of Andy Warhol, Sol Lewitt and Jean-Michel Basquiat (“That guy would never follow stupid grant guidelines,” Williams said of Basquiat admirably) and is not afraid to comment on the politics of Columbus’ art scene and major institutions, which he argues “are too damn conservative” and exploitative of independent artists.
“If you can’t explain it in 15 minutes, people here want nothing to do with it,” he said. “Post-modernism is boring and abstract expressionism is going nowhere. [The cultural conservatism has] disenfranchised new art systems and is exclusionary toward young people. It’s always been like that though. In the ’70s in Columbus, if you weren’t doing watercolor still lifes, you were nobody. It’s all bulls---.”
So what brought the artist, who was working in New York for years, back to Ohio in the early ’90s?
“I partied for 20 years every night,” he said. “I was tired.”
His unsuspecting grey-facade studio across from Angry Baker in Olde Towne East has some pretty amazing stories to tell, too.
The downstairs space doubles as a gallery of old and new artwork and a sometimes-studio for painting. Attached is a loft-bedroom and bath, where his out-of-town guests stay. Upstairs is a smaller studio where he keeps all of his paint and tools and a wall covered in magazine clippings about his art. There’s a rooftop garden.
Each area is colored with pieces from different eras of Williams’ career — from the Haring-esque chairs he made when he lived in New York to a Guilt Vent sculpture to his most recent painting, a commission for the Puffin Foundation West.
Also interesting is what you can’t see immediately. For example, the trapeze in a hidden closet that Williams had to take down from his first floor’s ceiling because partygoers were getting hurt on it. Or the hidden window on the second floor that he boarded up when he first moved in so police could use it as a lookout for drug deals.
The place is popping with as much personality as Williams. Each artwork has a charming if polarizing story; one artwork of a hip-hop-inspired, pop surreal Salvador Dali was supposed to be of a Civil War re-enactment or something historical like that, or at least that’s what the client asked for.
Williams, though, doesn’t care what people think of him, just that they keep an open mind to new art.
“My own family hates my guts,” he said. “They collect Thomas Kinkade.”