I’m There Where The Angel Is Missing: Brittney Leeanne Williams @ Newchild Gallery, Antwerp
I’m There Where The Angel Is Missing is comprised of two distinct yet interconnected bodies of work. The larger canvasses expand upon my current project channeling earlier art historical styles to explore genre painting and a kind of neoclassical realism. The smaller works continue my practice of more abstract depictions of the body merged with landscape. These smaller works are occasionally depicted in the larger work as props.
The larger works draw on scenes of visitation and revelation, both from well-known Bible stories and imagined encounters. Four of these paintings remake works of other artists, most recognizably Caravaggio’s The Inspiration of St. Matthew and Gerard Seghers’ Dream of St. Joseph. These works re-imagine the longed-for angelic visitation or revelation as the artist seeking inspiration to move past obstacles and blockages; to be transformed, altered, or renewed. I want a visitation, I want revelation but knowing it cannot be forced, I paint what isn’t. By painting the unseeable into existence, I perform an act of faith. Where there is disbelief, I paint belief.
In the religious genre paintings, I redact the white European angel, leaving the materiality of the drapery as a trace of their presence. Rather than the revelator/visitor/interrupter being made in a human image, the angelic figure is the invisible presence that can affect the visible (fabric). The materiality of the drapery is foregrounded in many of these pieces, whereas in the neoclassical mode drapery is usually background. Centralizing the drapery like this creates an opportunity for virtuosic painting while underscoring the tension between the seen and unseen.
There are two self-portraits included in the exhibition. Self-portraiture has always played a vital role in my art making. I make self-portraits both for the discipline and for pleasure, though rarely show them publicly. I’ve been wary of the potential for reductive and narrow positioning and commodification of Black portraiture. However, grappling with my own struggles in the studio, narratives of visitation, and my longing for a sustained sense of spiritual encounter forced me to include self-portraits in these works. I’m there where the angel is missing. These pieces refocus the Eurocentric patriarchal gaze through which Christianity has often been funneled onto a new subject. By painting my portrait as both St. Matthew in an inspired state and St. Joseph in a dream state, I make a Black woman the worthy subject for a scene of prophetic revelation. —Brittney Leeanne Williams
I’m There Where The Angel Is Missing is on view at Newchild Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium through October 19, 2023.