Art Exhibit Chronicles Fears of Drowning, Swimming

As a survivor of a near-drowning experience, African American artist Charles Williams was not surprised to learn that the majority of accidental drowning victims in America are African American male teenagers. Or that nearly 70% of American black children have few or no swimming skills, many offering such comments as “I don’t swim, because I’m afraid of drowning” and “I don’t like water.”

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #4, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #4, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

But Williams found inspiration in this life-altering experience: creating Swim: An Artist’s Journey, a series of paintings aimed at confronting his own deeply held fears as well as the cultural and psychological barriers to swimming experienced by black youth. These works form an exhibition opening Thursday, Jan. 15 at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum.

An opening reception, open and free to the public, will be held from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15. A concurrent exhibition, Voices of the Island: The Cuban Art Collection of Reynier Llanes, opens on the same date. Gallery talks by both artists will begin at 6:00. The opening reception is Free for Art Museum members and $10 for non members.

Regular gallery hours for Swim will be from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. Sundays. Both exhibits run through April 23.

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #2, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #2, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

Swimis a highly personal artistic exploration documenting the artist’s past and more recent interactions and fears associated with the ocean: from wave formations in the ocean to the physical inability to swim and the paralysis caused by his fear. His images merge the conflicting emotions aroused by the ocean: alluring and sensual, yet mysterious and at times overwhelming.

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #1, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

Charles Williams, In Seconds Seq. #1, 2014 oil on canvas, 6’ x 6’

In 8 large oil paintings, ranging in size from 6′ x 6′ to 6′ x 8,’ and 40 small painted studies, Williams explores the relationship between the natural environment – the ocean – and human emotions. These works express the personal awareness of fear – when one is confronted by the size and mass of water – as well as feelings of uncertainty, as the viewer feels surrounded on all sides by ocean and darkness.

Through Swim, the artisttakes the viewer through the psychological and physical steps toward understanding, acknowledging and surrendering to these fears in the hope of overcoming them. Williams, a Georgetown (SC) native, hoped his work would “ignite multi-cultural and multi-generational brainstorming for making positive cultural changes for the future of American youth.”

Charles Williams is a professional contemporary realist painter recognized for his lush and moody landscapes. He received his BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia. His most recent achievements include a Hudson River Fellowship, featured work in The Artist’s Magazine’s 28th Annual Art Competition, honorable mention from Southwest Art magazine’s “21 under 31 Emerging Artists Competition” and the 2012 winner of the Fine Art category from Creative Quarterly.

Williams’ work has been included in exhibitions in New York City, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, CA, and throughout the Southeastern region.

Admission to the Art Museum is free at all times but donations are welcomed.

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