Williams’ “Self Portrait with Riddle by Bullets”

‘Sunshine Deathmask” speaks volumes through bullets, bones and fire

By Kelby Vera

Timothy Warren Williams can tell you the story of his life through broken objects.

A painter, sculptor, and installation and video artist, Williams has been exploring the edges of his psyche and Southern Californian subcultures in his distinctly dark work for more than two decades.

Channeling personal experience by imbuing totems of surf culture with gothic magnetism, the Pepperdine alum uses paint, bullets and flames to resurrect old surfboards, stringed instruments, reclaimed bones, vintage doors and scrap steel. His self-described “apocalyptic prophetic” works with fire are inspired by a longstanding affinity for the elements.

“I’m born and raised in the Malibu area. I went to Pepperdine for art school. So I’ve just grown up with these crazy fires, they’ve just been part of my life. I’ve always been fascinated by how destructive but how powerful they are,” he says.

Williams began directly applying an incendiary energy to his work after the blockbuster Swell art show in New York in 2010. During the hit group show he found himself on the walls alongside California art legends like Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon and Ed Moses, and he even had his own work hung right beside idol Robert Longo’s.

Coming back from the show, “I was literally on fire,” he says. “I couldn’t calm down, and I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I use fire?’” The result: memento- and pigment-caked doors purposefully lavished in paint thinner before being sparked by Williams and overtaken with yellow flames.

Not one to shy away from the disquieting in his work, Williams began confronting gun violence after a near-death experience where he was held up outside of his Venice art studio. Instead of shirking away from guns, he began using firearms as a means to sculpt — blasting rounds into abandoned surfboards, later embellished with photos.

Williams’ trauma beheld a new type of intimacy with others who have met random acts of violence and connected with the art.

“There’s a real bond that we develop, and it’s really cathartic to listen to [others’] stories,” he explains. “When it happens to you, you really feel singled-out, like ‘Why’d they hold me up?’ It drives you into a very isolated space.”

The opening of Williams’ upcoming “Sunshine Deathmask” exhibit in Venice also invites music and performance into the gallery, with deejays spinning records and a concert by Williams’ band Black Cat Gallery to close out the evening.

“I’ve never done this before — never brought my music and my art together for an exhibit,” he says with metered anticipation.

The opening reception for “Sunshine Deathmask” is from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 1) at WNDO, 361 Vernon Ave., Venice. RSVP to WNDOvenice@gmail.com.