Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Paul Williams: Storage Solutions

by Giselle Stanborough

15 Jun 2011

Logic dictates that before there is a solution, there must first be a problem. Consequently, there must be some kind of initial conundrum underlying Paul Williams’ latest solo show Confetti Solution. Williams does have a problem, and it is the same one that faces any emerging artist whose practice is object based.

If you aren’t already a painter, imagine you are. You paint prodigiously for many years. A simplified summation of the fate facing your multitudinous backlog of artworks would be:

a) unstretched canvases are rolled up and placed in a pile, or

b) unstretched canvases are rolled up and placed in an appropriately sized Ikea storage unit.

Unfortunately, neither option a) nor b) adequately addresses the complexities of confronting the personal artistic histories embodied in old artwork. Old artworks map out the creative terrain and mark points of development; they narrate the evolution of the artist. Each artwork, no matter how unaccomplished it may be, is the product of aspiration and effort. The reasons for wanting to keep an old work go far beyond mere sentimentality.

So, that was Williams’ problem. His solution was to cut up numerous old painting into confetti. Tiny snippets of brightly coloured canvas bespeckled the floor of Gallery One and Two at Firstdraft. Sometimes they were shaped like stars but more often the pieces of confetti were shaped like a variety of cars: vans, utes, Jeeps, even Batmobiles. Such tropes of masculinity are reoccurring motifs in Williams’ painting practice.

Williams may have been implying that exhibited art is preferable to art in a pile or Ikea storage unit, but not necessarily that ‘new’ is preferable to ‘old’. It was a great strength of Confetti Solution that it resisted divides between ‘new’ and ‘old’ altogether, and thus tactfully avoided such onerous qualitative equations as new meaning good, old meaning bad. You don’t know if the older, original paintings were exemplary or terrible and frankly, it’s irrelevant.

It is this kind of anti anti-monumentality that appeals to me. There were no postmodernist clichés about undermining immortality and heroism in art, no iconoclasm. Although the essence of the work was a slashed canvas, the ever-present violence was understated. Suspended from the ceiling were a series of soccer balls resembling helmets. They had been sliced open and explosions of canvas confetti further littered the floor as audience members bashed these ball-helmets into each other. The whole scene was a lot of fun. After all, it was confetti we scattered, not ashes.

The suspended balls functioned as a kind of punching bag, which again brought to the surface the emblems of masculinity that are repeated in Williams’ paintings. He sees boxing as a general metaphor for art, but it’s not about the tournament, it’s about the training. And therein lies the paradox of boxing: that something so intensely adversarial has its everyday manifestation in solitary practice. The artist, like the boxer, spends hours cultivating what congenital talents they may have; honing their skills, developing strategies. The studio is to the gallery for an artist as the gym is to the ring for a boxer. You can’t fight well if you haven’t been training. Given this, it makes perfect sense that Paul Williams would be hesitant to part with the products of his labor just yet.