Inside the gorgeously exaggerated world of artist Evan Williams

Andy Downing
adowning@columbusalive.com
Evan Williams

Through the years, artist Evan Williams has developed an exaggerated style of portraiture, one that nods to caricature but tamps down the form’s cartoonish leanings, more subtly skewing perspective and proportion rather than comically enhancing features. The works also share commonalities reflective of Williams’ worldview, which is embedded in an artistic code he has refined over time. For instance, the artist relates hand size to generosity of spirit, which is revealed in how he approached drawings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (oversized mittspositioned at the fore) and Donald Trump (tiny tononexistent).

“And it’s not because of the whole thing [Trump] came out with saying he has big hands,” Williams said, and laughed. “The bigger your hands are, the better your soul is. To me, the hands are everything. I give people big hands on purpose if I get the vibe from them that they’re a good person. If not, I give them little tiny baby hands, or tiny feet, or I’ll make their head literally the same size as their body. I’ll play around with things that other people may not really pick up on.”

Overall, Williams said his style is reflective of the playful way in which he takes in his surroundings. “All I’m doing is letting you behind the curtain," he said, "so you can see how I really see the world."

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Williams grew up a self-described “military brat,” moving constantly with his family before settling in Dayton in eighth grade. Throughout these various relocations, though, art remained a constant, with Williams sketching cartoon and comic book characters, often losing himself in his notebooks at inopportune times. “I’d be drawing in class, not paying attention to my math teachers,” said Williams, whose work can be viewedon his website andvia Instagram. “I fell into it, and it came naturally to me, so I knew I was going to do something with it eventually.”

During Williams’ senior year of high school, and unbeknownst to him, his art teachers submitted a handful of his drawings for the Who’s Who Among American High School Students, for which he earned national honors. Following high school, Williams enrolled at CCAD, remaining in Columbus following graduation. Though he initially intended to pursue art full-time, life intervened, with the demands of fatherhood and its attendant responsibilities pulling him away from his craft for a stretch.

“I would still draw here and there, but it wasn’t my everyday focus,” Williams said.

Within the last two or three years, however, art has again become central to Williams' existence, and, after helping get the kids to bed, he’ll often hole up and draw for three to four hours, crafting exaggerated portraits of a range of historical and pop culture figures. “I’m creating all of the time now. In total I probably have 120 pieces,” said Williams, who currently has work exhibited at Shadowbox, District Art & Apparel, Black Art Plus and Dewey’s Pizza in Dublin. He also recently landed an arts manager, and was gearing up for a massive 2020 showing at various summer arts festivals before the coronavirus hit and obliterated the landscape.

“It definitely crushed me, at first, because I had a lot of momentum going,” Williams said. “But the thing [COVID] has done is that it’s forced creators … to be in the house and really look at your craft. It’s given me an opportunity to get better and kind of reinvent the way I was moving. So, while it was painful initially, I think it will lead to a renaissance, this creative renaissance that’s going to explode.”

Along with the coronavirus, the past year also gave rise to a resurgent Black lives matter movement, which Williams has explored in a handful of drawings, with an intent on returning to the subject for a multi-piece series. “I wanted my voice to be heard on that subject as soon as possible,” said Williams, who slightly toned down his style to better convey the message. “I wanted it to be recognizable as mine, but I also didn’t want that to take away from the meaning.”

More generally, though, Williams said he’s cognizant to draw subjects across the pop culture spectrum (he’s currently working on a drawing of Johnny Cash, for instance), since he wants to be recognized more broadly as a great artist.

“My biggest fear when I first started was being labeled a really good Black artist,” Williams said. “It can be really easy to get caught up in the rotation of drawing things that are more immediately relatable to you and your culture, or things you’ve been around your whole life. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to show I can do anything. I’ve drawn the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Britney Spears and on and on. If you go to my website, you can see the range I’ve drawn, and you won’t be like, ‘Oh, he only does this or that.’ … I just want to be known as a really good artist.”

Evan Williams