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Joan Didion famously wrote, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Though at times solipsistic, narrative helps us make sense of chaos. Jessica Williams’ aptly titled Fire Season plucks its name from the pages of Didion’s iconic book of essays The White Album, a series of California stories as mythic as the state itself. The landscape of both the state and the architecture of the city of Los Angeles are inspiration for Williams’ crowd of paintings that casts women in quiet moments.
Williams’ domain is moody and floral. Artifice and reality blur in Williams’ multitudinous California. Women sigh on balconies, at beaches, and in suburban bedrooms, perhaps mistaking one another for their own reflections. The viewer finds themselves drifting in lush, jewel-toned atmospheres—a shifting phantasmagoria. Brushwork that’s at times washy and other times oil-thick, suggests a range of experimentation from the artist that’s still falling into place, making the collection of paintings feel nonlinear.
The faux-Mediterranean aesthetics of Los Angeles’ Orsini apartment complex (that famously burned to the ground via arson in 2014 and was rebuilt the following year) serves as an ephemeral backdrop for reclining, balcony-side women in many of Williams’ paintings.
The Way the Air Tastes (Poetry at the Orsini No. 3) (2017) depicts Williams’ reimagining of a romanticized solitude, in which its subject wears a pink Harlequin-style suit leaning over to smell a beautiful rose.
Each composition is a frame of a shapeshifting reality, though one that is grounded in the real world—it moves from room to room, rather than world to world. A woman alone in contemplation on a balcony among flowers in Reverie in Blue and Pink (Los Angeles Times) (2017) fans herself with a maroon copy of the LA Times: a fantasy more likely to happen than it is radically imaginative.
Jessica Williams: Fire Season runs September 23–October 28, 2017 at SADE (204 S. Avenue 19, Los Angeles, CA 90031).