Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

William Thomas Williams Jr

 (born 1942)
William Thomas Williams, Jr. is active/lives in New York, Connecticut / Africa.  William Williams Jr is known for geometric abstract painting, teaching, quilting.

William Thomas Williams, Jr.

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for William Thomas Williams, Jr.
Artist William Thomas Williams, Jr. was born on July 17, 1942, in Cross Creek, North Carolina, to William Thomas Williams, Sr. and Hazel Williams. Williams's family moved to Queens, New York, when he was four years old, but Williams would continue to visit North Carolina in the summertime.

In 1956, Williams met famed artist Jacob Lawrence, an encounter that helped him believe that he could be a professional artist. That same year, Williams was admitted to the High School for Industrial Arts in Manhattan, where he often frequented the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After graduating from high school as a member of the National Honor Society, Williams entered New York City Community College in 1960, and graduated two years later with his A.A.S. degree.

In 1962, Williams was admitted into Pratt Institute*. In the summer of 1965, Williams attended a summer art program at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture* in Skowhegan, Maine. Williams graduated with honors from Pratt Institute with his B.F.A. degree in 1966, then attended Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where he earned his M.F.A. degree in 1968.

Williams returned to New York City, and with the help of his parents, rented a Soho loft that remained his home and studio throughout his career. Soon after, Williams married Patricia De Weese, with whom he had two children: Aaron and Nila.

Williams's first exhibit was a part of a group exhibition called X to the Fourth Power; it was held at the Studio Museum in Harlem*, New York in 1969, a place he would return to for exhibitions numerous times. In 1971, Williams had his first show at the Reese Paley Art Gallery, where he sold out his entire exhibit.

Throughout the 1970s, Williams's work would be exhibited at a number of venues, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum in New York, the American Embassy in Moscow, and the Fondation Maeght in France.

In 1970, Williams became a professor of art at Brooklyn College, and in 1971, he began a summer residency as a member of the faculty at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a position he would hold again in 1974 and 1978. Williams became the director pro tem at Skowhegan School in 1979.

In the late 1970s, Williams took his first trip to Africa, which influenced the style of his work throughout the 1980s. In 1984, Williams became a visiting professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the following year held a solo exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Williams became the first black artist included in H.W. Janson's History of Art textbook in 1986, and in 1987, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship*.

Williams continued to work throughout the 1990s, and his work was included in the "To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities" touring exhibit in 1999. In 2006, Williams was awarded the prestigious North Carolina Award, the highest civilian honor the state can bequeath.

"William T. Williams", The History Makers,

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Biography photo for William Thomas Williams, Jr.
William T. Williams work ranges in style from his early geometric abstractions, to almost-monochromatic explorations of texture, to an abstraction that derives its force from productive tension among colors and forms. While he has consistently tested the limits of his earlier styles and developed new approaches, his meticulous attention to the process of art making has remained constant.

A master of brushwork and color, Williams creates his paintings in series, working through a labor-intensive process that often includes drawings, watercolors, and prints.

From the outset of his career, Williams’s art was characterized by bold color and daring compositions that paid homage to and challenged the abstraction that had come before it. He emerged at a time when abstract expressionism was in decline, while pop art, color field painting, and minimalism were on the rise. Concurrent with this aesthetic transition were social and political transformations that saw artists, intellectuals, and activists challenging the exclusionary practices of New York’s white- and male-dominated art institutions.

These critiques came in multiple forms, including an approach to art that favored figural representation embedded in a politics of struggle and an assertion of identities misrepresented by or excluded from American culture. Such images were a necessary correction to a history of omission and caricature, but they risked being received by the art establishment in a way that affirmed its tendency to ignore work by abstract artists who were also African American.

Living in an artist loft building on Broadway that over the years included neighbors Kenneth Noland, Joel Shapiro, Janet Fish, and William Copley, Williams believed that abstraction offered him greater creative and expressive freedom than figural representation, but he was also wary of the potential cold, impersonal aspect of painting that was merely about painting.

Williams thus developed an approach that rendered the abstract representational, not only through titles replete with autobiographical references, but also in the shapes he incorporates. These shapes resonate with cultural history and personal memories of a childhood spent in the northern, urban environments of New York as well as the southern landscapes of rural North Carolina.

Jazz, too, became an important site of convergence where memory, history, and a black American abstract tradition met. Finally, quilting was for Williams another manifestation of an African American tradition of abstraction. His artwork often incorporates the diamond shape as a visual motif that functioned “as a stabilizing force, a form that interacts compositionally with what's around it. But it goes back to the quilts of my childhood, the patterns and forms I grew up with.”

The synthesis between personal/cultural narrative and abstraction that Williams developed early on in his career was met with deserved success. Born in rural North Carolina, Williams moved to New York with his family as a youth. He attended the School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design), before enrolling at Pratt Institute in 1962. At Pratt, he studied with some of the foremost figurative painters of the day including Richard Lindner, Philip Pearlstein and Alex Katz, but it was painter Richard Bove who encouraged Williams to work from intuition and memory rather than from observation.

The resulting abstract work found support amongst his professors whose encouragement led Williams to pursue graduate studies at Yale University. The graduate department at Yale provided a rigorous theoretical foundation and studio practice for the artist as the faculty included George Wardlaw, with whom Williams studied during his first year, Jack Tworkov, Al Held, Lester Johnson, and others. Held played a particularly encouraging and influential role for Williams. “[It was the] best experience I ever had. [Held] was relentless in terms of pushing me….it was really good for me because it forced me to focus on what I wanted to do and why I was doing it.”

Williams completed his MFA at Yale in 1968 and in 1969, now living in New York, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) purchased his Elbert Jackson, L.A.M.F. Part II (1969). That same year, he was included in the Whitney Biennial and he organized X to the Fourth Power at the newly opened Studio Museum in Harlem. A Smokehouse muralist from 1968 to 1970, Williams was instrumental in establishing the artist-in-residence program at The Studio Museum, which remains to this day a core mission objective.

In 1971, Reese Palley Gallery, New York mounted Williams’s first solo exhibition and he began teaching at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where he was on faculty for four decades, inspiring hundreds of students including Nari Ward and Arthur Simms.

In 1965, he spent a summer in Maine as a student at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, returning as faculty in 1971, 1974, 1978, and 1979; the latter year he served as protean Director. In 1975, Bob Blackburn invited Williams to make a print at the Printmaking Workshop; over the next 22 years, Williams collaborated with Blackburn to produce 19 editions, as well as a number of unique print projects.

In 1977, he participated in the Second World Festival of Black Art and African Culture, held in Lagos, Nigeria, which marked his first time in Africa. The trip, especially the movements of patterned clothing he saw on the street, had a profound effect on his art, and Williams began a series of paintings inspired by this African tradition of abstraction.

Williams has continued to revise, adapt, and transform his style, and this dynamism combined with a consistent set of formal and thematic concerns has contributed to the longevity of his luminous career. Williams has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including: a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987), The Studio Museum in Harlem Artist’s Award (1992), a National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellowship (1994), the Brandywine Workshop’s James Van Der Zee Award for lifetime achievement in the arts (2005), the North Carolina Governors Award for the Fine Arts (2006), and the Alain Locke International Award from the Detroit Institute of Art (2011).

The Cumberland County native is also the first African American contemporary artist to have his work (Batman, 1979) included in the widely-used reference work The History of Art by H.W. Janson.

For over forty years, Williams’s work has consistently been shown at home and abroad. Representation in groundbreaking exhibitions includes, To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Addison Gallery of American Art, 1999); What is Painting? (MoMA, 2007); Blues for Smoke (Museum of Contemporary Art, LA) and Witness: Art and Civil Rights in The Sixties (2014, Brooklyn Museum of Art).

Currently, he is featured in the inaugural exhibition at the National Museum of African American Art and Culture (Washington, DC) and his work will be included in the forthcoming Tate Modern exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (July 12-October 22, 2017).

He is represented in over thirty public collections, including the Detroit Institute of the Art (MI); Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums) (Cambridge, MA); The Menil Collection (Houston, TX); Museum of Modern Art (New York City); Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Collection (Albany, NY); North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, NC); The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York City); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven).

Williams continues to live and work between New York City and Connecticut. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC is the exclusive representative of William T. Williams.

Biography copyright Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LL, New York, NY

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday

About  William Thomas Williams, Jr.

Born:  1942 - Cross Creek, North Carolina
Known for:  geometric abstract painting, teaching, quilting

Essays referring to
William Thomas Williams, Jr.

Black American Artists