Peter Williams

He // Him // His

[ID: A portrait of a man in a studio, surrounded by paintings. The man has brown skin and short grey hair. He sits in a black wheelchair, looking up at the viewer from behind black-rimmed glasses. He wears an amused expression and holds a pile of papers. He wears a black t-shirt that reads “History of US Presidents” with several “White man” emojis, a “Black man” emoji, and a “clown” emoji.]

Wilmington, DE
2022 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett.

Peter Williams (1952–2021) was a chronicler of current and historical events, interspersing pictorial narratives with personal anecdotes and fictional characters to create colorful paintings about the diverse experiences of Black Americans. With boldness and humor, Williams tackled even the darkest of subjects, including but not limited to police brutality, lynching, slavery, mass incarceration, and other realms of racial oppression. He used cultural criticism to form new creation myths, retelling the history of America from fresh and cosmic perspectives. He was recently retired from his position as senior professor in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Delaware and had previously taught for seventeen years at Wayne State University.

Born in Nyack, New York, Williams earned his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He was the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, the Artists’ Legacy Foundation’s 2020 Artist Award and, in 2018, was inducted into the National Academy of Design. He was also recognized with numerous other awards, including a Djerassi artist residency (2018), Joan Mitchell awards (2004, 2007), Ford Foundation fellowships (1985, 1987), and a McKnight Foundation fellowship (1983).

Williams’ paintings are held in the permanent collections of many major institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Delaware Art Museum.

Portrait photo courtesy of Luis de Jesus.

  • Artwork by Peter Williams
    On the Way, 2019. Oil and graphite on canvas, dimensions 72 × 96 inches.
    [ID: A painting of a cartoonish figure falling against an abstracted, striped sky hung with polka-dotted clouds. His eyes and mouth are wide with apparent alarm. The figure is clothed in many different colors and patterns with white boots and gloves, encircled by loops of white.]
  • Artwork by Peter Williams
    Incarceration, New Nation!, 2018. Oil-based enamel, oil, and pencil on canvas, dimensions 72 × 144 inches.
    [ID: A painting comprising four sections. Brightly-colored, cartoonish figures dance and run with their arms held high, some wear strange, tall hats. Each section is also filled with colorful square segments with abstracted faces inside.]
  • Artwork by Peter Williams
    Head Trip By Black Folks to Another Planet, 2019. Oil on canvas, dimensions 60 × 72 inches.
    [ID: Cars fly across the canvas, over concentric fields of red, orange, and yellow, as if descending from space to land on a planet. The destination of the cars is a colorful region full of bright geometric shapes and spirals.]
Artwork by Peter Williams Artwork by Peter Williams Artwork by Peter Williams