Aubrey Williams moved to London from British Guiana, as it was then called, in 1954. His closeness to Cheddi Jagan the leader of the Independence Movement led to a concern that Williams could face persecution. He had fallen foul of the government Agricultural Department when he had begun fighting for the rights of sugar cane farmers. He was then moved to Hororo in the north west of the country where he spent time with the Warao people. He had known from childhood that he wanted to become an artist and took lessons (and then taught at) the Working People's Art Class. His exposure to the Warao led his painting became infused with imagery from the pre-Colombian mythologies of the culture, such as the fang- and vertebrate -like forms that recur through his painting. In London he attended St Martin's School of Art and began to exhibit in the radical New Vision Centre Art Gallery from 1958. Although his work was also shown at the Commonwealth Institute, where he received a prize in 1963 he felt neglected by the London art establishment. His response was to develop the Caribbean Artists' Movement (1966-72) with fellow artists and poets Ron Moody and Kamau Brathwaite. In 1970 he returned to the newly independent Guyana with the CAM artists, where he was commissioned to make murals at the airport named in honour of his friend, Cheddi Jagan. He travelled to Jamaica in 1976 and was invited to Nigeria in 1977 for FESTAC, the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.
In 1965 he saw the retrospective of Arshile Gorky at the Tate, which proved to be an inspiration for him, contributing to an expansive style that encompassed Analytic Cubism, pre-Columbian art, and indigenous Guyanese culture.
When Williams first heard Shostakovich as a teenager he claimed that he could 'feel colour'. He began work on the Shostakovich Series around 1970, painting some 30 canvases over the following 10 years. Ultimately he admitted that he did not believe in the possibility of 'hearing light or seeing sound', rather, the paintings represented the affinity he felt with someone he called: 'a supreme being, the greatest composer of our time'.
Like Williams, Shostakovich incorporated a diverse range of cultural influences into his work to create dissonant effects, from jazz and traditional folk to American Big Band music. In the Shostakovich Series Williams combines the forms of Warao mythology with Modernist colour and the bold gestures of Abstract Expressionism. Composed in 1962, The 13th Symphony commemorates the murder of Ukrainian Jews in the Second World War.
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: Fine Art
: Shostakovich Symphony no.13, Opus 113 (Babi Yar) for Bass, Bass Choir and Orchestra to the Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko
: WILLIAMS, Aubrey
: abstract painting on canvas, incorporating Cyrillic lettering
On Display at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Gallery 5
: Given by the Commonwealth Education Trust through the Contemporary Art Society, 2015