With paint and words, Wiliams examines her Windy City

Chicago native Amanda Williams investigates the Chicago area in her exhibit showing at the Three Peas Art Lounge.

By Mitch Montoya

After Rio de Janeiro was selected as the official home of the 2016 Olympics, Chicagoans seemed to be suffering from some bruised egos. For those doubting Chicago’s allure, local artist Amanda Williams has debuted a collection of works celebrating past and present Chicago that will surely remind the public of this city's greatness.

Housed at the Three Peas Art Lounge in the South Loop, Williams’ collection focuses on political history and working-class Americans, along with some of Chicago’s iconic scenery. As a native of Chicago, Williams is able to convey a sincere love for the city as well as to make sharp and informed observations about its dynamic urban environment. The intricate and deeply layered textures of her work parallel the enriching depth and complexity of the themes addressed in her pieces. “Unlike some other artists that don’t want their pieces to be touched, [Williams] wants people to actually touch the work and see all of the layers of the piece,” Maya Broussard, curator for the Three Peas Art Lounge, said.

The collaboration between Boussard and Williams began after a mutual friend recommend the artist’s work to Boussard. “I have seen her work, and the process is hypnotic and even mystifying. Every time I look at her art, I can see something new and learn something new from other people that have viewed the pieces,” Boussard said. William’s incorporation of unconventional objects like dollar bills and newspaper clips lends her work an enchanting quality. In a piece entitled “Marvin’s Journey,” newspaper clips are overlayed on a canvas and then painted over, creating a journey of the eye through written text and the color gradient.

A similar theme of progression is presented in “There is a Past Tense,” which includes a photograph of a child, possibly Williams herself. The painting consists of this photo covered in a blue paint that extends over the rest of the canvas. Below this image, the word “soul” is etched into the paint, insinuating a connection between the past, as indicated by the photo, and her present soul. The details Williams has painted over require the viewer to look beyond her dazzling color schemes and focus on the images, still visible, lying beneath the surface.

The sparse, yet striking, words included in Williams’ works demonstrate her thoughtful nature, something that Boussard noticed early when first viewing her work. “I usually like abstract works with a purpose. Many people could throw something together and say it is ‘abstract,’ but it needs something more. With Amanda’s work, she has a very clear and direct message,” Boussard said.

Part of Williams’ aim is to send a message to younger generations about the history of Chicago politics beyond Barack Obama. In her piece, “Mr. Obama Goes to (Harold) Washington,” Williams pays homage to Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, and other modern political heroes. By juxtaposing Obama’s and Washington’s names, Williams points to a political symbolism that connects the past with the future.

Williams also paints to convey the immense beauty present in both the natural landscape and the urban cityscape of Chicago. “She is very interested in architecture, so one thing that is consistent in her work is the Chicago cityscape, as well as other parts of Chicago, like Lake Michigan,” Boussard said. “The contrast between city and nature, or soft and hard, is present in many of Williams’ works, particularly in the wonderfully colorful ‘Sung For’ and ‘Untitled (Lake Michigan).’” Each of the paintings displays hues of blue juxtaposed with intense texturing and darker shades of black or grey, alluding to Chicago’s urban center facing the lake shore.

While many artists can lose their message in overly abstracted works, Ms. Williams expertly strikes a balance that allows her to be visually inventive but thoughtful as well. Amanda Williams has provided a collection that reminds us that even though Chicago was not chosen for 2016, it still has a rich history and vibrant culture that makes it one of the most intriguing destinations in the United States.