Heart, Hand, Humerus
“Back To You” by Shannon Williamson
Blue Oyster, 24b Moray Place
16 May – 16 June
There’s something utterly enthralling about these paintings that you can’t quite put your finger on.
The first thing I noticed was the breathtakingly beautiful use of watercolours. Williamson’s skillful merging of inky blue, dove grey and blush pink is, quite simply, gorgeous. The colours’ limited use in these artworks further enhances their beauty.
That’s not quite it, though. The second thing I noticed was the map of lines that stretches across the plane of the paper. Tiny fissures trace their way through space, resembling the branches of a Bonsai tree. Follow these lines further and more abstract forms appear in the curiously rounded edges and trailing strings.
But that’s not exactly it, either. Take a step back and the full picture will form, but it’ll still take you a while to figure it out. Maybe you won’t figure it out at all. I’m honestly still not sure if I have.
I’ll stop being so irritatingly mysterious now, but it won’t make it any easier to explain the intricate details that combine to form Williamson’s series of artworks. Her exhibition “Back To You” comprises six paintings (actually three sets of two companion paintings). In each set, one painting is the “official” watercolour piece and the other is the “skeleton” of its partner. Williamson created these “skeletons” by sewing the outline of each watercolour piece into the second artwork. From a distance this doesn’t look like much, but up close the “skeleton” pieces are quietly haunting echoes of their showier twins.
Each pair of paintings is unique in form and arrangement, but united in subject matter: the awkward beauty of the human body. All those trailing lines? Veins. All those oddly rounded shapes? Organs and arteries. But Williamson doesn’t discriminate. Her fondness for both outsides and insides is demonstrated by the repeated appearance of lips, hands and breasts. Such a description makes the works sound very sensual. They are, but there’s something a little off about these paintings that both attracts and repulses the viewer. Perhaps it’s the bluntly anatomical rendering of the human body so casually imposed over smoother, less offensive body parts that provokes a mixed reaction of awe and abhorrence. Williamson depicts us as at once beautifully human and savagely animal. This perception of humanity appears most strongly in a watercolour depicting two human skulls biting into, or maybe just nuzzling, each other. It makes for a simultaneously lovely and terrifying image.
I hate to play favourites, but I loved this exhibition more than anything else I’ve reviewed this year, so I highly encourage you to see it. Maybe even drop me a line and tell me what you think. Of course there’s no disputing Williamson’s artistic talent: each limb and organ is precisely rendered, her eye for the most minute detail is incredible, and her sketches of hands in particular make me green with envy (I have always sucked at drawing hands and feet, it’s still a sore point). But, as always, it’s the emotional response that’s most interesting, so let me know if you manage to figure out exactly why these works are so haunting.