A Lircay I, 1999, 46″ x 46″ A Oi-An IV, 2000, 46″ x 46″ As we passed men operating cranes and carrying barrels onto barges, I couldn’t help thinking of the new wing of the M.F.A. \(which I had visited the previous and hardwood floors, its display of wealth and its echoes of the Metropolitan Museum, its obvious striving to be “world class.” There is a painting there by Panini of the interior of St. Peter’s in Rome. It caught my attention because of the assortment of people the artist depicted in the church. Some stroll in gowns or fancy suits while others sit on the floor in rags, the classes rubbing up against each other in the public spaces of the city. I thought of what it would be like to live in Italy, among the ruins of a previous culture, everyone converging on piazzas built in past centuries. In Houston, history is too often pushed out of view, the social classes separated. The city is mythically new, its economic history hidden and a good portion of its “culture” imported from afar. Through the eyes of the artist, however, we see another version of the city’s history, thick with ambiance, and sitting in its own smelly backyard. As the Sam Houston passed through the channel, Williams pointed out the bottoms of the barges, visible only when the ships are in port, without cargo to weigh them down. This is what he photographs. This is where the texture is. Occasionally, I could see him out of the corner of my eye, taking pictures as we passed a particularly interesting ship. As we traveled along the ship’s side, he was creating a series of like images. He explained to me that working in series, he found subtle differences from photograph to photograph, which makes the work interesting to him to see how the slightest difference in marking and weathering alters the entire picture. By simplifying and reducing the variables in his work \(i.e., shifting away opens up the possibility for unlimited variation. When Williams finishes shooting pictures of a boat, he notes its name, recording and honoring the ship’s identity, and preserving the connection between the abstract photographs and the very concrete vessels. The day we toured the channel together, the air was heavy and humid, a typical May day. He explained there is a lot of glare this time of year. In winter, the light is stronger and brighter, producing the lush, saturated colors of the work I had seen in his studio. The humidity and the cumulus clouds that arrive when Texas heats up produce glare, and the resulting photographs are darker and more austere. Casey says he’s working up the nerve to print some of these images, because he wants to expand his range. There have been images he didn’t like in the past, that he found ugly at first, but which later grew on him. The beauty emerged and made itself known over time. This is really what the series is about: finding the aesthetic in what is generally considered unsightly. It is the artist’s gift, to help us see with new eyes. In Casey Williams’ new work, we not only see the Port of Houston afresh, we it through the lens of art history, in see particular Abstract Expressionist painting. Living in Houston has provided him with the opportunity to see many paintings by
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