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Gallery: John Williams, “Stuff They Don’t Tell You”

April 8th, 2010

John_Williams_McUnion_600.jpgIn Artword Gallery from May 6 to 30: cartoonist and artist John Williams, with drawings from his on-going labour history series “From out of our Past: Stuff They Don’t Tell You“.
John_Williams_Porters_600.jpgHere is John’s description of his work: “I try to reach a general audience by illustrating an historic incident with a brush and ink drawing in the style of great comic strip pioneers like Alex Raymond and Leonard Starr. Then I scan it into a digital vector graphic with a brief text, an identifying “flag”, and a timeline that places the item in historical context. The panel is done in a high contrast black and white version and then digitally colourized for websites.”
Friday May 14, 7-10 pm: Artist present in the gallery during the James North Art Crawl.

John Williams: Artist’s Statement

John_Williams_Springhill_Rays2_600.jpgWhen cartoonist Mike Constable asked me to work up a labour history cartoon for the Union Art Service fourteen years ago, he didn’t have to ask me twice. The chance to indulge several weaknesses at once was too good to pass up. I could draw in the style of classic adventure comic artists I admired, get in touch with my inner professor by writing brief accounts of history and play with my latest toy, the Mac.

John_William_Long_Road_600.jpgMy starting point was to expand the mandate to include the history of popular social and political movements, what’s come to be called people’s history. The idea is that the stories of nonofficial actors has equal validity with the conventional history of wars and constitutional changes. Coming from the political and social upheavals of the nineteen sixties, a new generation of historians like Craig Heron in Canada and Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel in the U.S. compiled oral accounts from people who had been involved in the great events of our age. Since conventional history relied on written records and documents for its validity, these new historians had to fight for recognition in the academic world. Their success has resulted in a vast literature of stories from the point of view of people affected by and who affected historic events.

John_Williams_Showdown_600.jpgUsing these developments as a starting point, I worked up a title. While From out of our Past is a bit clunky, it has the advantage of avoiding the deadly word, “history”. I try to reach a general audience by illustrating an historic incident with a brush and ink drawing in the style of great comic strip pioneers like Alex Raymond and Leonard Starr. Then I scan it into a digital vector graphic with a brief text, an identifying “flag”, and a timeline that places the item in historical context. The panel is done in a high contrast black and white version and then digitally colourized for websites.

A word about the content. The more varied the items, the more interesting the project becomes. The stories range from the labour movement to the women’s movement, and the struggles of aboriginal people and various communities. I try to deal with different time periods and regions of the country as well as covering other nations. The point of view is mine alone and at least a few of the items are a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I do research and I try to be accurate and fair.

Artist’s Biography:

John Williams has been drawing the realist cartoon panel, From out of our Past, for fourteen years. Conceived as a vehicle for telling people’s history as part of the Union Art Service, FOOP, as it appears in his files, is a product of John’s history of involvement in various social justice issues. In fact, design and illustration has always been a main contribution to his work with everything from layout and illustration with the alternative press to research for a Toronto food bank and graphic design for the Co-op Housing Federation.

After leaving school and taking a few part-time art courses, John travelled around North America and then came back to work in everything from hardware warehousing, film animation and €œunderground€ newspapers, to advertising. He still works as a free-lance designer and illustrator as well as painting acrylics depicting the changing face of Toronto. As well as showing his paintings in galleries, on the net and at the annual Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, John has shown From out of our Past at the Mayworks festival and the Hamilton Art Gallery.

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