Colleen Patricia Williams
Creating With A Strength From Within
by Jonny Boys
I have not met a woman yet as strong willed and opinionated at Colleen Patricia Williams. She is a force to be reckoned with in the emerging art world. Her works include, oil paintings, encaustics and mosaic sculptures. I first met her on MySpace and soon after found myself driving to Lake Oswego to an import car dealership to pick up several of her works including a massive 60” x 60” framed oil painting. I had the pleasure of representing her work for almost two years.
When I met with Williams for the interview we must have talked over three hours on a range of topics from religion to politics to the art business.
Williams grew up in what could best be described as a violent and abusive home. Her father moved her family to rural Alaska. Her father sold into slavery but three days later she escaped with the help of a pagan commune in the area. She was 14 years old. The pagans protected her for six months and then eventually flew her back to California and into the custody of her Grandparents, who adopted her.
Up until that point Williams was not allowed to be creative. She literally would be punished if it was found out that she drew anything in school. Her Grandfather, a Native American, spent the next few years encouraging her to be creative. Her Grandparents bought her a camera and she took it everywhere and photographed everything, although she remarked at the time, it didn't seem so much like art as it did documenting life. Her Grandfather told her that she was going to college. They put together a portfolio without her knowledge and applied for her to get into Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from high school two years early in 1979. Williams' Grandfather died that same year, from a stroke. Because her step-grandmother mishandled her Grandfather's finances she did not attend college at that time.
The few years that she and her Grandfather had together played such a strong role in Williams' life. He believed in equal pay for equal work, that women's hands fit around a wrench the same way men's do, and that women held the world together during World War II. He also told her that as a woman she was superior to him, which had to do with his Chippewa upbringing.
He told Williams that that the idea for the US Supreme Court was based off of the Iroquois nation. The law was doled out by a single male figure but their were five women on hand that sat as the judges. The man spoke what was the will of the people and the women were there to ensure he stayed on track. The Iroquois and Chippewa nations are matriarchal, meaning the bloodline is traced back through the woman, they were land owners and owned livestock and when they married their land/livestock were kept separate and not merged into the
Williams is very passionate about women's rights issues and has found her art is a useful tool to be her voice to get her message across. While riding the bus and working on one of her sketches , two older women began reacting to her drawing. "I look back and there are a couple elderly women", they were taking about her drawing of a woman nailed to a cross. "What these are about is the war against women, because there is a war here against us", Williams pointed out. The other drawing was Eve on a cross holding an apple. "That is the excuse they keep telling us", she said referring to the passage in Genesis where Eve took an apple from the Tree of Life ate it and then tempted Adam to eat it as well. "They are not denigrating Christianity, because...Jesus loved women", Williams said. So the two woman each reacted differently. They were both holding Bibles, obvious that they were coming from a Bible study or something. "One of them is rather offended, but the other is admonishing her...'That's not about what you think, I bet that's about [how] they're trying to invade our vaginas!', so to me I think a lot of it has to do with our politics and there are these conservatives that are looking for offense, looking for [things] to be picking on", Williams said.
With of the level of abuse Williams underwent as a child and teenager it was maddening that her mother knew what was going on and told her to suck it up. A lot of that comes through in her work as she has worked on dealing with it over the years. She has been able to handle the after effects of abuse much better than her siblings which she attributes to a mutant gene that prevents Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2009, the The US Department of Veterans Affairs began genetic research on the PTSD gene with the theory that there must be a gene that makes some prone to PTSD while others are not.
Flash forward to Williams' life at age 26, in 1988. Her first husband would not allow her to work, but then he got hurt on the job. Because they were on food stamps, to continue to be qualified, she was required to go to JATP, Job Apprenticeship and Training Program, classes. They selected the program, she did not have a choice, which was welding. In those days a woman could not get a job as a welder. But she found that she really excelled at was the Heliarc, which is shaped like an airbrush. The school sent her to get supplies at a local art company. She walked in and there was a brand new Paasche VJ-1 airbrush and a Badger air compressor paired together for $300. Her husband had just gotten his settlement for his injury, so she called home and got him drive 30 miles to the store and buy it for her. She took it home and got books at the library and figured out, on her own, how to use it. She had some family that kept bugging her to submit her work in an art show. She followed through but just assumed her work wouldn't be hung and when she went later to see the show she realized that her work was awarded prizes by a jury. Her works took second prize and an honorable mention. She was floored. So she thought, "What the hell, I'm gonna sign up for art classes". She signed up at the same community college where she was learning welding.
Williams entered her work into a student show at the community college and she was awarded best of show. She ended up earning an Associates of Art degree. A gallery in Santa Barbara invited her to show her work with them, but she had to make a decision whether to have an art career or to stay home and be there for her kids. She made the choice to stick with her kids to offer them stability. She said those kids are her masterpieces. "It did cost me, yes it did, it most certainly did. I will never achieve what I was headed towards, I'm too old...it's not going t happen". She said she has faced severe agism here on the west coast, but going to New Orleans where her Mother's family is from, you have to be an older artist in order to have any credibility.--In my experience some of the best art comes from a mature artist that has experienced life and has something to say out of that experience. That's not to say that young artists can't be great, but imagine if their art is great now what it will be like in 10 to 15 years.
That said, she does have work in two galleries, one in Portland's Art Erotic which is part of the L. Alan Arts Project and her mosaics in Seattle, Washington at the Continuum Gallery. You can read all about her by checking out her website and following her blog as well.