Robert Williams (artist)

Robert Williams (artist)

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Robert Williams is an American painter
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

, cartoonist
A cartoonist is a person who specializes in drawing cartoons. This work is usually humorous, mainly created for entertainment, political commentary or advertising...

, and founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine
Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine
Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine is a magazine created in 1994 by a group of artists and collectors including Robert Williams, Fausto Vitello, C.R. Stecyk III , Greg Escalante, and Eric Swenson to both help define and celebrate urban alternative and underground contemporary art. It was edited from...


Williams was part of the Zap Collective
Zap Comix
Zap Comix is the best-known and one of the most popular of the underground comics that emerged as part of the youth counterculture of the late 1960s. While not believed to be the first underground comic to have been published, Zap is considered to mark the beginning of the "underground comix"...

, along with other underground cartoonist
A cartoonist is a person who specializes in drawing cartoons. This work is usually humorous, mainly created for entertainment, political commentary or advertising...

s such as Robert Crumb
Robert Crumb
Robert Dennis Crumb —known as Robert Crumb and R. Crumb—is an American artist, illustrator, and musician recognized for the distinctive style of his drawings and his critical, satirical, subversive view of the American mainstream.Crumb was a founder of the underground comix movement and is regarded...

 and Gilbert Shelton
Gilbert Shelton
Gilbert Shelton is an American cartoonist and underground comix artist. He is the creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy's Cat, Wonder Wart-Hog, Philbert Desanex, Not Quite Dead, and the cover art to The Grateful Dead's 1978 album Shakedown Street.He graduated from Lamar High...

. His mix of California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 car culture, cinematic apocalypticism
Apocalypticism is the religious belief that there will be an apocalypse, a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to belief that the world will come to an end time very soon, even within one's own lifetime...

, and film noir
Film noir
Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classic film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s...

 helped to create a new genre of psychedelic
The term psychedelic is derived from the Greek words ψυχή and δηλοῦν , translating to "soul-manifesting". A psychedelic experience is characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one's mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly...



Robert L. Williams II was born on March 2, 1943 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Robert Wandell Williams and Betty Jane Spink at 5:30 AM. At a very early age he displayed an interest in art, drawing and painting with watercolors. He was enrolled in the Stark Military Academy in the first grade. Perhaps this led to his fascination and collection of World War One German Pickelhaube
The Pickelhaube , also "Pickelhelm," was a spiked helmet worn in the 19th and 20th centuries by German military, firefighters, and police...

 later in life.

Another love instilled in Williams at an early age was car culture. Robert the elder owned "The Parkmore," a drive-in restaurant complete with carhops and frequented by hot rodders. Williams himself received his first car, a 34 Ford 5 window coupe, at 12 years of age as a gift from his father. References to this childhood environment can be seen throughout his work as well as in the custom hot rods he would later build himself.

The Williams household was one of flux as his parents would marry each other a total of four times and Robert would shuttle between New Mexico and his father's in Montgomery, Alabama. Their final separation would come in 1956 with 12-year-old Robert staying with his mother in Albuquerque. His youth was spent delinquently and immersed in hot rods, high jinx, and gangs, which lead to his expulsion from public school in the 9th grade.

In an attempt to avoid jail and delinquent destruction, Williams headed to L.A in 1963. Floating on the allure of hot rod culture and affordable art school he landed in classes at Los Angeles City College and worked on the school paper, "The Collegiate", contributing artwork. It was here he also met his future wife, Suzanne Chorna.

Williams moved on to a short stint at The Chouinard Art Institute where he was branded an "illustrator" in a derogatory fashion. Now married, Williams fled the Art School Tyranny and headed into the professional sector in search of work. Trying to find his niche, Williams designed containers for the Weyehaeuser Corporation and art design for Black Belt magazine before finding his dream job in 1965 in the far out figure of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and his Rat Fink.

In the late 1960s, while doing advertisements and graphics for Roth, Williams was also a productive oil painter. It was during this period that he was creating his "Super Cartoon" paintings. Including "Appetite For Destruction" and "In The Land Of Retinal Delights" these paintings were meticulously created in the style of the Old Masters including hand-made paints and multiple layers of varnish. These works sold well but were very time consuming to produce, sometimes taking over a year to complete. Many of these paintings were owned by Williams' patron, James Bruckner Jr., and were on permanent display at the Movie World Cars of the Stars Museum.

As Roth's studio came to a close Williams joined the ZAP Comix collective of artists and flourished in the non-conformist, anti-establishment movement with fellow malcontents R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson
S. Clay Wilson
S. Clay Wilson is an American underground cartoonist and central figure in the underground comix movement. Wilson is known for aggressively violent and sexually explicit panoramas of "lowlife," often depicting the wild escapades of pirates and bikers. He was an early contributor to Zap Comix,...

, Spain Rodriguez
Spain Rodriguez
Manuel Rodriguez , better known as Spain or Spain Rodriguez, is an American underground cartoonist who created the character Trashman. His experiences on the road with the biker gang, the Road Vultures, provided inspiration for his work, as did his left-wing politics.-Biography:Born in Buffalo, New...

, Rick Griffin
Rick Griffin
Richard Alden Griffin was an American artist and one of the leading designers of psychedelic posters in the 1960s. As a contributor to the underground comix movement, his work appeared regularly in Zap Comix. Griffin was closely identified with the Grateful Dead, designing some of their best known...

, Gilbert Shelton
Gilbert Shelton
Gilbert Shelton is an American cartoonist and underground comix artist. He is the creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy's Cat, Wonder Wart-Hog, Philbert Desanex, Not Quite Dead, and the cover art to The Grateful Dead's 1978 album Shakedown Street.He graduated from Lamar High...

, and Victor Moscoso
Victor Moscoso
Victor Moscoso is an artist best known for producing psychedelic rock posters/advertisements and underground comix in San Francisco during the 1960s and '70s....

. In 1969 he created his seminal Underground Comix anti-hero, Coochy Cooty. His creation was unleashed in 1970 in Coochy Cooty Men's Comics and ZAP Comix #5 and is still alive today in Williams' oil paintings.

Many of these comix and "Super Cartoon" paintings were included in Williams's first ground breaking book, "The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams" released in 1979. The title of the book was meant as a statement on the current "Highbrow" tone of the art world and how Williams' work did not fit in with its ideologies.

In the 1980s Williams caught the frenzied vibe of the punk rock
Punk rock
Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock...

 movement and found his next audience. The "Zombie Mystery Paintings" were born in the glow of after-hours clubs and slam pits. The book of the same name influenced and inspired a multitude of artists with the energetic, vibrant, sexy, and ultra-violent images it contained which were in complete contrast to the uptight and exclusive art scene of the day. These works were done quickly, on a rough canvas, and sold via a waiting list system due to demand. In addition to the books, popularity for Williams' work was established in avant-garde galleries like Billy Shire's La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Zero One Gallery, and the Tamara Bane Gallery.

Visual Addiction was Williams next book of paintings. The works in this tome were rendered more tightly and began to contain detailed background elements and vignettes. This book also contained Williams' "Rubberneck Manifesto" that claimed:

"Something dead in the street commands more measured units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas!"

Williams released several more books as his work progressed in style, size, and content. His paintings have moved from the realms of zombie sex to quantum mechanics and command sold out shows on both coasts as well as a demand around the world. He has influenced generations of artists and has given them a voice through publications that feature Underground/Lowbrow works of art like ART? Alternatives in 1992, and later, JUXTAPOZ. Williams has also participated with other artists in such ventures as "The Art Boys" which included such notable members as Gary Panter, Matt Groening
Matt Groening
Matthew Abram "Matt" Groening is an American cartoonist, screenwriter, and producer. He is the creator of the comic strip Life in Hell as well as two successful television series, The Simpsons and Futurama....

, The PIZZ, Mike Kelley, Neon Park
Neon Park
Neon Park was an American artist and illustrator, best known for the images that have strongly defined covers for nearly every Little Feat album except for the band's self-titled first album. He also created the cover of Weasels Ripped My Flesh for Frank Zappa, as well as covers and graphics for...

, and Mark Mothersbaugh
Mark Mothersbaugh
Mark Allen Mothersbaugh is an American musician, composer, singer and painter. He is the co-founder of the new wave band Devo and has been its lead singer since 1972. His other musical projects include work for television series, films, and video games....

. Other known collectors and contemporaries include Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage is an American actor, producer and director, having appeared in over 60 films including Raising Arizona , The Rock , Face/Off , Gone in 60 Seconds , Adaptation , National Treasure , Ghost Rider , Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans , and...

, Timothy Leary
Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs. During a time when drugs like LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison...

, Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry
Deborah Ann "Debbie" Harry is an American singer-songwriter and actress, best known for being the lead singer of the punk rock and new wave band Blondie. She has also had success as a solo artist, and in the mid-1990s she performed and recorded as part of The Jazz Passengers...

, Anthony Kiedis
Anthony Kiedis
Anthony Kiedis is an American vocalist/lyricist, and occasional actor best known as the lead vocalist of the Grammy-winning American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis spent his youth in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his mother before moving, shortly before his 12th birthday, to Hollywood,...

, Von Dutch
Von Dutch
Von Dutch is an American multinational clothing company named after artist Kenny Howard.After Howard's death in 1992, his daughters sold the Von Dutch name to Michael Cassel and Robert Vaughn...

, Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
Arthur Jacob Arshawsky , better known as Artie Shaw, was an American jazz clarinetist, composer, and bandleader. He was also the author of both fiction and non-fiction writings....

, Stanislav Szukalski, Ed Ruscha, and Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio is an American actor and film producer. He has received many awards, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Aviator , and has been nominated by the Academy Awards, Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television...


The antics of Coochy Cooty and paintings like "Oscar Wilde In Leadville" and "Appetite for Destruction", which was featured as the cover for the Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses is an American hard rock band, formed in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, in 1985. The band has released six studio albums, three EPs, and one live album...

 album of the same name
Appetite for Destruction
Appetite for Destruction is the debut studio album by American rock band Guns N' Roses, released in July 1987 on Geffen Records. It was well-received by critics and topped the American Billboard 200 chart...

, before controversy forced record company Geffen Records
Geffen Records
Geffen Records is an American record label, owned by Universal Music Group, and operated as one third of UMG's Interscope-Geffen-A&M label group.-Beginnings:...

 to move it to the inside sleeve, have raised many an eyebrow. Here is his response from a 1992 interview:

"I do not believe that my representation of females aids in their oppression. It is my artistic right to render the images of woman as my imagination sees fit. Remember, I will gladly accept the title "Bad Person" to continue my expression. In other words, nothing short of death will stop me from painting nekkid ladies..."

Of his paintings, Williams states:

"My paintings are not designed to entertain you, they are meant to trap you, to hold you before them while you try to rationalize what elements of the picture are making you stand there."

Of the moniker Lowbrow Williams steadfastly denies that the term was ever meant to define the movement, but was merely used in the title of his first collection.

"There was never any intention to make the title of my book the name of a fledging art movement but, over time, that seems to be what has transpired."

Williams began the magazine "JUXTAPOZ" in 1994 which propelled to fame many new artists and rose to become one of the highest circulated art magazines. 1997 saw the release of the to-date retrospective "Malicious Resplendence" as well as a one-man show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York. Two more Shafrazi shows followed in 2000 and 2003. These works were published in "Through Prehensile Eyes" in 2005. 2007 saw Williams as a featured interviewee in the movies "Independents" and "The Treasures of Long Gone John" as well as a collaboration with Vans for their Vans Vault limited edition sneakers line. The popularity of the shoes would lead to more collaborations including hand painted sneakers. In his 2008 lecture at the Oakland Museum of California, Williams states:

"The Art movement I go by is Conceptual Realism."

Williams had several pieces in the accompanying "L.A Paint" exhibition.

His next one-man show was in 2009 once again at the Shafrazi Gallery titled "Conceptual Realism: In the Service of the Hypothetical" and a catalog of the same name was released. This exhibition moved to California State University, Northridge
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Northridge is a public university in Northridge, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, United States....

 in 2010 where Williams delivered a tour of the work, and a lecture defining his art movement, Conceptual Realism. 2010 also kept Williams busy with his inclusion in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as the release of a feature length documentary on the artist. "Robert Williams Mr Bitchin" premiered on Jun 16 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to a full house and standing ovations. The film was produced by Rhino Films and Foundation Films and documents Williams' rise to fame from his car culture and underground comics roots. On October 9, 2010 Williams was awarded a lifetime achievement award as part of the Beyond Eden Fair in Hollywood California.

Williams lives in the San Fernando Valley in California with his wife Suzanne who is a professional artist in her own right.

External links