September 13, 2016  |  Artists, Behind the Scenes
Art/Work: MoMA’s Creative Minds: Mark Williams

Mark has been a full-time preparator at the Museum for 22 years, as well as a practicing artist for over 40 years. He has exhibited extensively in the United States, Europe, and most recently in Asia. Mark’s unassuming, sweet demeanor belies an intelligent, articulate, and committed painter who has not shied away from experimenting and pushing his work in new directions. Take a look.

All artwork by Mark Williams. Beat. 1994. Acrylic on wood, 8” x 32”. “This is the first painting I made when I changed the guidelines of my art making.”

MoMA: When are you able to work on your artwork?
Evenings and weekends; I’m pretty disciplined about that. I look at each coming week and pencil in studio time. There is always something I can do even if it is 5 to 10 minutes. If I looked for the perfect block of time it would make it prohibitive to get any work done.

What is the best and worst part of being an artist working at the Museum?
Working with a super high-caliber team already in place. Being here as an artist you notice even within a few weeks how to both fit into a group and bring something special to it. This is different from being a solitary artist in the studio; that and seeing the masterworks in the collection.

The juggling act of balancing time with family (wife and daughter), a full-time job, and a studio practice

What is your favorite works in MoMA’s collection and why?
I like Frank Stella’s Astoria. I’m also a fan of Agnes Martin, El Lissitsky, Malevich and Rodchenko; I think of them as my art ancestors. As for younger/current artists, Charlene Von Heyl

How long have you worked for MoMA? 22 years

How has the Museum changed in 22 years?
It has expanded tremendously—the exhibition space, the staff, the value of the works we are moving in and out of the building has become greater and greater. It has grown in every way.

How has being able so directly involved with the handling of the art at the Museum changed your work? Or has it?

It hasn’t to a great degree, but I always enjoy the opportunity to see the work unglazed, unmatted, the way the artist made them; if the painting or mark making goes up to the edge, past the edge, etc. To me everything is a decision, so when I can see the object as it is without all the safety, preservation, framing things layered on top of it I am learning something about the artist and their process.

How has your work changed over 40 years?

Just before I started working at the Museum I changed from what I would call a “hot” format—patching, curves, whirling paintings on top of constructed armatures that I made out of wood that ultimately was too slow a way to work through ideas and by the time I was done making the armatures I was too tired to paint. I wanted to work through ideas with agility, so that summer I reviewed my notes and sketches and realized they looked like I had zoomed into one section of the paintings which made me think, “what if I just made an image from a concentrated detail of the previous work?” The details were more rectilinear. After some time I changed the guidelines of my art making to a “cooler” format—no curves, no diagonals, and instead of three-dimensional structures they became low-relief planes. That opened up a whole new field of variations.

Three paintings made in 2013–14. Oil enamel and acrylic on canvas, 24” x 20”

The body of work you were doing up until approximately two years ago remind me of Robert Ryman’s work in that there are small but very important variations in each piece which at a quick glance may look similar.
I did see the Ryman show at MoMA in 1994 and loved it and went back several times.

Yes, that was a great exhibition curated by Robert Storr. I also went back again and again. That was just before I started working at the Museum.

Artist Book. 2015. Oil and tape in sketchbook, 10” x 20”

Your work has become less “mechanical” and more gestural. How did this come about?
I did a residency at The Albers Foundation where I had a chance to go through numerous catalogues by both Anni and Josef Albers inspired me to step it up and expand. I took tons of photos of everything at the foundation’s property and expanded how I was using tape in my works. I kept playing with tape on its own. Once while doing that in the studio, working with colored tape on the actual desk Josef Albers had worked on (!!), Nicholas Fox Weber, the executive director, brought in some visitors, saw what I was doing and said, “you know Josef Albers told me he was the one who suggested Mondrian use colored tape in his work.” That was exciting. I continued to experiment with grids and various colored tapes. This led me to place an overleaf of paper on top of a tape grid I had made directly on the surface of my worktable. Using a squeegee to apply paint meant I could also remove the paint with the same tool. I use this process of adding and subtracting to develop a compelling, cogent image.

View of studio, 2016. Moving forward with three new drawings from the series “The Grid and The Gesture.” Oil on Yupo, each 40” x 52”

You are retiring from the Museum; can you tell me what your plans are?
I’m going to shift my focus to making art during the day, in daylight and working on the new works for upcoming exhibition opportunities. I’ll have more time to develop and explore this new body of work.

Sounds pretty great to me.