Tess Williams graduated from her Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2015. She has since had solo shows in Germany, Spain and the UK, and has been selected for numerous group exhibitions across Europe. Her work is held in collections in the UK, Europe and the USA.
Materially rooted in the details of urban and bodily landscapes, Williams’ painting practice explores the physical deconstruction and reconfiguration of traditional abstract painting.
By incorporating the use of collage, textiles and installation she allows the tangible and visceral material details be the central focus. Canvases are ripped up, recomposed, layered, sewn back together, altered completely, before evolving to become a finished work.
A reflection of her upbringing in central London, the industrial aesthetic is a continuous draw: rugged surfaces, exposed staples, gritty greys and blacks. This is in opposition to the softer, fleshy, bodily palette that is often used, alongside natural linens, raw canvas, frayed edges and delicate stitching. This contrast explores the relationship between the male and female properties of materials, and how when juxtaposed, they can form a dynamic visual language. Also bringing into question themes of domesticity and gender stereotypes within painting as a medium.
Tess works from her studio at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation in Islington, London.
Maddie Rose Hills: I'm very interested in how you play with your medium and push boundaries in this subtle way. Your works are compositions made up of textiles and found materials as well as canvas and they often hang off the wall at one corner or even whole side. Do you still describe yourself as a painter?
Tess Williams: Yes, very much so. Although I think a lot about the qualities of other mediums when working (eg. sculpture, textiles, assemblage) all my work is very much rooted in process-based painting.
I explore how folds, creases, seams, layers and movement within the materials can act as a form of mark making, and also how they can reference bodily states and sensations. I intend my work to exaggerate the physical presence of our own bodies: “tactility reflected back from the paintings” – the mutability of flesh. The manipulation of different viscosities of paint and the physical processes I use to transform the fabric supports are as equally important as the tangible materials themselves. Dense, saturated, ragged. The physical and tactile – not just the visual.
The contrast between the free hanging vs. stretched paintings is an important relationship within my practice. The sculptural qualities that a free hanging painting can have: folds, curls, drapes. In contrast to the taught, structured rigidity of a stretched painting: the tension of a pulled seam, predefined edges and select compositions. This balance of control and spontaneity is key to the way I work, allowing room for the natural occurring properties of the material to sometimes take over, yet keeping control of the overall outcomes.
The initial stages of the paintings are mostly made horizontally on the floor. I walk on them, sit on them, become physically immersed in them as the finished paintings begin to emerge. By not treating the materials as precious, and the very rough hands-on, sometimes brutal ways I manipulate them allow me to have a stronger haptic connection when working. Hence, making the studio a very tactile and bodily engaging place – something that is key to my sense of closeness to the materials.
MRH: What's your relationship with the colour blue?
TW: I guess my visual relationship with blue started at a young age when I was mesmerised by the paintings of Yves Klein. And still to this day he is an artist that I love – in particular his blue body prints.
Also, as half of my family is Spanish, I associate it with summers growing up on the Spanish Coast with the bright blue sea surrounding us.
Maybe it’s because of these relationships that blue is a nostalgic, grounding and comforting colour for me – but at the same time is incredibly energising.
MRH: Where do you see your practice going in the future?
TW: I hope it will evolve to become a deeper exploration into paint itself, whilst continuing to broaden the different ways I make. To never stop experimenting and taking risks.
I would like to make more site-specific installations outside of the gallery setting and to start using a broader range of sourced and found materials.
I also aim to bring my research photography more directly into the work – feeding the representational images that I take straight into the paintings. Pushing the collage aspect of my practice much further.