Portrait image courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald, April 2011
Fred Williams was a painter and printmaker whose distinctive vision altered the way many Australians envisage the landscape. He approached his subject matter as a stimulus for formal invention and said he strove to depict the underlying bones rather than the surface skin of the Australian continent. Williams had an extensive knowledge of Western art and strove to link his Australian work to these broader traditions.
Williams evolved an individual approach whereby he reduced forms to a series of abstract motifs, notably in his You Yangs landscapes. He first visited the You Yangs, the landscape of granite ridges situated between Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria, in the winter of 1962. Working in situ, he painted his observations in watercolour, developing these studies in his studio into a series of radically abstracted paintings.
In 1977 Williams was the first Australian artist to hold a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Working within the dominant Australian landscape genre, he developed the heritage of late 19th-century Australian Impressionism and modernised it. In the trajectory of 20th-century Australian modernism he positioned himself as ‘a link between Nolan and Drysdale: Nolan the irrational, Drysdale the formal’.