Sue Williams, Betsy Ross Composite (2020), via 303 Gallery
Marking her eleventh solo exhibition at 303 Gallery, painter Sue Williams has brought a selection of dynamic new paintings to bear on the New York space, continuing her particular brand of incendiary, uncompromising social critique through her craft. In a body of work that expands across a range of varied technical approaches and materials, the show outlines Williams’s impressive capacity carry her themes and concepts across a broad framework.
This focus here turns its attention towards the current landscape of American empire, dwelling in particular on the brutal reality of life in a waning American Empire, and reflecting on the progression of history that has ultimately landed us at the current juncture of social and political turbulence. The result are works that span the range of American history. Her works are suffused with images of colonial times: disembodied Pilgrim clogs, Tudor cabins, horses outfitted with blinders, the literal nuts & bolts that prefigured the industrial revolution, Betsy Ross as a dinosaur. The suggestion that America is founded on violence and manipulation, that the post-truth, post-Trump, post-COVID world is not an anomaly but a continuation of a status quo built over the past 400 years, doesn’t seem far-fetched. Other works dwell on the domestic and the interior, like her collages All Fours or Earlobes, Presenting pieces that could be read as portraiture of the American suburb at a microscopic scale, the implicit tension and embellishment of varied elements create an enduring sense of critique that traces itself across the full show.
There is a wry and impertinent classicism in Williams’ compositions – at first glance, they suggest the kind of maps early land surveyors might use. They also may intimate the strewn wreckage of a natural disaster, here the relentless and sadistic subversion of democracy, the American dream, and E Pluribus Unum. Couched in the archetypal imagery of our the nation’s forefathers, of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties, American idyll itself becomes Machiavellian. The result is a sense of both fierce critique and hope for the future, a sense of the world past, and of a bright new one to come.
The show closes January 30th.
– D. Creahan
Sue Williams at 303 [Exhibition Site]