Photograph of Aubrey Williams and the Sky: Light and Colour in the Universe exhibition signage

An exhibition celebrating the relationship between William’s work and the heavens.

Aubrey Williams (1926–1990) was born in Georgetown, then British Guiana. He showed remarkable talent and at a young age joined the Working People’s Art Class run by E.R. Burrowes, but trained as an agronomist.

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It was while working in that capacity in the rain forest, immersed in the culture of the Warrau Amerindians, that he found himself as an artist. The decorative and ceremonial values they give to bright feathers and strong natural pigments show not only in his studies of the fauna and flora of the rain forest, especially birds(not exhibited here), but also in his abstract painting.

At the other spatial extreme, Williams was a keen observer of the heavens and an active member of the Royal Astronomical Society. His interest in archaeology, particularly of the Maya, and in the ecological collapse of their civilization, addeda brooding dimension of time and futurity. He moved to London in 1952, re-trained at St Martin’s School of Art, and subsequently exhibited at galleries in London and around the world.

Since his death there have been major exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1998, parallel exhibitions at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and October Gallery in London in 2010, and most recently of his Shostakovich Series at the Hales Gallery in 2013.

He enjoyed international acclaim as an artist, and was the subject of nearly fifty one-person shows and a contributor to nearly as many shows in Europe, America, Africa and Japan.

The Cosmos series was the last series of paintings Williams was working on when he died, and was the focus of an exhibition of twenty works spanning three decades, from Carib Mark (1961), and including the Olmec Maya period (mid 1980s), reflecting a lifetime involvement with cosmology and astronomy. He owned two telescopes and spent many a clear night watching the stars until the early hours of the morning  this interest in cosmology is evident in the paintings included in this exhibition. As a leading critic of his work, Guy Brett, wrote, “… there is something astronomical in all of Williams’ paintings.

From Here to the Edge of the Observable Universe

To celebrate this relationship between Williams’ work and the heavens, the paintings are shown alongside a series of images obtained with the Hubble Space telescope. These digital images take us on a journey from Saturn in our own solar system to the Hubble Extreme Deep field, an area of sky less than a hundredth the area of the full moon, based on a total exposure of two million seconds. It shows part of our universe the way it was when it was less than 1/20 its present age. Between these two extremes we see the Horse Head nebula, the Orion nebula, places where stars are being born as well as stars like our Sun coming to the end of their lives. From there we see galaxies, each containing about one hundred thousand million stars, interacting galaxies performing a dance of half a billion years before they merge and a cluster of galaxies bending the light of even more distant galaxies, with the force of gravity, into thin arcs.

The exhibition is an extension of the Symposium on Aubrey Williams: Painting and Writing in the Caribbean held in the Faculty of English on 26 April 2014. Two major paintings from Aubrey Williams’ Olmec Maya series can currently be seen on long term loan in the Faculty Library.

The exhibition has been made possible with the support of the Fellows and staff of Churchill College, with Robin Catchpole at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, and the October Gallery, London.

Aubrey Williams is represented by the October Gallery, London.

Related links

Aubrey Williams Symposium

October Gallery