Artist Brianne Williams aims for realism, life, warmth

Amanda Jess
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NEW GLASGOW – Brianne Williams is a living shrine to the sea.

Her space inside the NSCAD-New Glasgow Community Studio is chock-full of seafaring symbols: endless buoys, numerous water-themed paintings, several pieces of driftwood, ropes, and a lobster trap.

The 24-year-old New Glasgow artist-in-residence can be easily recognized by her realistic and simultaneously abstract aquatic artwork.

It’s her biggest inspiration for her work, partly because she comes from a fishing family.

“I even look back, and (realize) I’ve always liked boats. It’s a topic I’ve never really come away from.”

As a realistic painter, she works from photographs, most of which she takes herself.

Although she’s creating an image from an image, she puts her own touches into it. She also notes that water is abstract in itself in its shading and the way it moves.

I’ve heard this, ‘If you’re painting realistic, what’s the point? Take a photo.’ There is a point. With my paintings, and taking an image that’s realistic, and trying to create it with my water and my shading and my colour, it doesn’t look like a photo. It looks like a painting. It brings it to life, and it brings it to colour. It’s warmer, and you just don’t get that, and the fact that there’s someone’s hand behind it. Seeing a painting, you know it’s probably taken a month. There’s just this love that comes from this image.”

Her only major exception in painting her own photographs is a piece that inspired a whole series of women in water.

While out at a bar in Halifax with a group of friends, she was browsing a large stack of National Geographic magazines they had on hand, and was blown away by one of the images.

The photograph of this woman in water continued to stay central in her mind, and she wished she had torn it out.

She happened to go back to the same bar the next day, and spent 40 minutes leafing through pages to find it again, with help from her friends, until finally one of them came across it.

It was that photo that inspired her to put out the word that she was looking for models to paint, swimming. 

She painted the original image from National Geographic, a self-portrait and another woman. Since people have seen the series, she’s gotten lots of model offers and plans to do more of those paintings in the summer.

“Usually a traditional self-portrait uses the frame of your shoulders and your head, smiling in a perfect frame. But I’m a swimmer, and I love the ocean, so I feel it was a super appropriate self-portrait for me.”

Since coming to New Glasgow in September, she’s surprised herself with the amount of paintings she could produce.

If she budgets her time, she estimates she can average three small to medium sized pieces a month.

After graduating from NSCAD in 2012, she took a year to paint and work in retail before applying for residencies.

New Glasgow was an easy choice with Williams’s father living close by in Black Point.

She had already spent a summer here a few years ago.

She originally hails from Coldbrook in the Annapolis Valley, and also has family on the south shore.

Having spent so much time in many seaside communities, there’s no reason to question why she would be obsessed with the ocean.

She went through a phase of painting excruciatingly detailed ropes, causing her to step back and take a break from them.

“It’s hard. (People say) ‘Oh, you’re a painter. That must be so fun.’ It comes with its challenges.”

Spending hours painting a tiny section of rope, it’s easy for her eyes to dry out, for her back to cramp and to become frustrated.

It’s also difficult wondering if she’s going to be able to sustain herself as an artist in a time when people aren’t buying, she says.

The positives outweigh the negatives for her though.

“You need to root for yourself because no one else is going to.”

One of the best feelings is when she’s within an hour of finishing a piece. She gets a rush of endorphins and excitement as her hard work begins to pay off.

There’s a satisfaction from solving how she’ll paint certain things as well and watching her progress since she started painting in school.

She had been drawing for a long time, but really came into her own as a painter at NSCAD.

Outside of her work – and back on land – she’s likely running, doing handstands, or juggling.

Williams trained for a year at the Halifax Circus, practising juggling with clubs, acrobat tricks, rope, and trapeze.

“Anything circus I will try. I’m a very physical person.”

She recently vacationed in Cuba, and was randomly picked out of the audience to go on stage during a circus show, shocking the performers by bringing out her training.

“I’m in the second row, and I just have this feeling I’m going to get picked on.”

They started off with hoop tricks that many audience members would be able to do.

While another audience member was doing something with the hoop, Williams looked to the back of the stage where someone was holding a set of clubs.

She motions for them, a set of homemade clubs drastically different than her own set, and next thing she knows, she’s at the front of the stage.

“I try one rotation and they’re heavy. They’re awkward and they’re weird…. There’s handles on mine and they’re weighted.”

Although difficult to adjust to, she starts to double her rotations, throwing the clubs higher in the air.

She adds in more tricks as she gets more comfortable, throwing under the arm and a triple rotation, and does a quick bow after she’s done.

The audience went wild, she said.

“Later, I had people ask if I was planted,” she laughs.

Williams will be in New Glasgow as part of the residency until the end of August.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

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Recent comments

  • Barb M
    March 24, 2014 - 06:35

    Great article. Where can we see/buy Brianne's paintings?