Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives | Montclair Art Museum
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Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives

Start Date: 
Sep 16, 2017
End Date: 
Jan 07, 2018

The Montclair Art Museum presents the first museum retrospective of nationally renowned, Montclair-based contemporary artist Philemona Williamson. Primarily spotlighting her enigmatic and evocative paintings, the exhibition is accompanied by two site-specific installations illuminating the artist's creative process.


"I paint figures depicting individuals of varying ethnicities inhabiting timeless, invented, dream-like environments, I probe the psychological landscape of adolescence, blurring the lines between race, gender, and class." — Philemona Williamson


In Roberts Gallery, a selection of 20 paintings spans Williamson’s career from 1988 to the present. Williamson’s dynamic paintings primarily feature figures of indeterminate age and ethnicities engaged in evocative actions fraught with mystery and universal significance. Often autobiographically inspired, the paintings do not focus on conveying a story, but rather present an underlying idea or emotion. Poetically titled, these works invite viewers to use their imaginations to interpret their open-ended narratives. The artist’s use of vibrant colors and firmly modeled yet generalized forms within timeless, invented spaces is the foundation for her skillful negotiation between metaphor and narrative.


In complement to these paintings, two site-specific installations reveal Williamson’s creative process. Full of pentimenti (traces of previous compositions), her large figurative paintings are based on a process of trial and error. She is inspired by her memories and a range of objects in her studio, including a lifelong fascination with dolls. In Laurie Art Stairway, In the Studio, a composite photograph on poplin, captures Williamson’s “Inspiration Wall” in her studio. In the Constable Rotunda gallery, four large abstracted dolls adopt and transform traditional topsy-turvy folk art dolls.


The exhibition is curated by Gail Stavitsky, MAM chief curator. A fully illustrated 32-page catalogue will accompany the show, with an essay by Stavitsky.


Audio Tour

Look for the cellphone symbol on select object labels and dial in to an audio tour. Hear Philemona Williamson discuss her paintings directly.


Related Programs

The Vance Wall Art Education Center at MAM presents a series of programs and art classes for all ages in conjunction with the special exhibition Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives. Offerings include:


A Conversation with Philemona Williamson

Thursday, November 9, 7:30 p.m.

Join MAM for an engaging conversation between the Museum’s chief curator Gail Stavitsky and artist Philemona Williamson. Montclair-based and nationally renowned, Williamson is currently spotlighted at MAM in her first major museum solo exhibition.


Family Day: Exploring Our Environment

Sunday, November 12, 1–4 p.m.

Participate in a day of themed exploration with many dynamic activities reflecting MAM’s current exhibitions Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event and Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives.


Master Class: Philemona Williamson
Saturday, November 18, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

How can our personal memories inform the artwork we create today? Take an artist-led tour of Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives and Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event for inspiration. Explore the theme of identity with master artist Philemona Williamson as you create highly personalized narrative works. Recommended for intermediate to advanced artists and art educators with experience in oil, tempera, watercolor, or collage, and those who have a willingness to take creative risks! Bring photos or personal items to add to the class inspiration wall, art supplies, and a bag lunch. A recommended supply list will be available upon registration.


Visit for a full listing of tours, family programs, and related events.


Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives is made possible with generous support from the Susan V. Bershad Charitable Fund, Rose Cali, Tracy Higgins and James Leitner, Karen G. Mandelbaum, Peter Norton Family Foundation, the Lyn & Glenn Reiter Endowed Special Exhibition Fund, Lynn and Sengal Selassie, Adrian A. Shelby and Edward Bindel, the Judith Targan Endowment Fund for Museum Publications, and Margo and Frank Walter.


All MAM programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Carol and Terry Wall/The Vance Wall Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum members.

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