Edison William’s new exhibit, opening next Friday, features a series of new works showcasing his continuing exploration and quest devoted to creating photographs that fuse the bucolic with the phantasmagoric. William is nearly obsessive with the meticulous detail in creating his images, from the coordination of the actual shoots and mapping out the compositions, to choosing suitable materials to frame them. His show at BREW Five Points, Confusion of the Dream in Planetary Motion – Great Smoky Mountains, will feature a range of 10 to 20 pieces, including clocks, photographs and mirrors. The sizes run the gamut, from about 8 inches by 8 inches to 29 inches by 19 inches, each one housed in a variety of selected woods, including spalted maple to aromatic cedar.
In recent years, William has shown his works at BREW, Bold Bean, and the 2013 PhotoJax fest at CoRK. In addition, William was a collaborator in the highly successful group installation, The Apartment Exhibition. Curated by Staci Bu Shea, the Apartment featured pieces by William, Thony Aiuppy, Sterling Cox, Lily Kuonen, and the conversion of a mother-in-law suite in Avondale into a multi-person-rumination on concepts like tenancy and temporality. William feels that ultimate impetus for bringing Confusion to BREW grew from his admiration for what owner Jack Twachtman has done, and continues to do, by offering a low-key venue for both newer and established artists to display their works. “Twachtman has really done a wonderful job creating the environment and atmosphere in BREW Five Points. He’s redefined this space as a real and valid place to exhibit works of art, where they will be discussed amongst the educated, cynical minds that gravitate toward his unique style of “housing presentation,’” William tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “And I think other artists in the city really resonate with it because, for the time being, it’s one of the few alternative spaces, in that [it] continuously cycles through both emerging and accomplished artists, and it allows for repeated exposure. Having a show at CoRK is great but, most of the time, the work is viewed only once, on opening night. So when I’m creating work for that type of repetitious exposure, I think about shaping the imagery into narratives that unravel over time.”
The work is on display at a hip Five Points coffee shop with heavy foot traffic, but the actual inspiration came from moments culled from William’s monastic-like experiences in a mountainous, bucolic environment some 500 miles away. “This show is almost entirely focused upon the viewpoints within the Great Smoky Mountains, and I don’t think any place has ever left me with such a wildly vivid and soul-stirring impression,” says William. “It’s like nature’s theme park, standing in a line of people, anxiously waiting to jump off rocks into frigid and magically rejuvenating mountain stream water below. It changed me entirely, for the better.”
The 32-year-old William acknowledges other experiences that lent themselves to his betterment: his extensive photographic and art studies at art departments of University of North Florida and what was then called FCCJ. And his art instructor foster reads like a roll call of area artists who are as adept at creating valid work as they are conveying their own disciplines and paths to students. William directly cites Dustin Harewood, Dominick Martorelli, Paul Karabinis, Alex Diaz, Emily Arthur Douglass, Jenny K. Hager, and Debra Murphy with having had some kind of effect on him through their encouragement to continue on with his work. “It felt like a golden time with the program; [such a] long time ago. They all definitely started to teach me, but I was so damn lazy then. It angers me when I think about how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such wonderful professors and endless resources for development,” he says, adding, with a laugh, “I just wasn’t 32 years old yet.”
Using his Canon Digital SLR, William works in a technique which he calls “photostration,” combining sensibilities of both photography and illustration in building images to create scenarios that are, if not impossible, then at least highly improbable. Two Mile Beach offers viewers a sweeping tableau of a resort-style beachfront invading a bucolic, mountainous landscape. People wade through the shoreline as a wall of invading hotels and condos stand entrenched at the foot of a mountainside forest. The overall effect seems based on eco-consciousness as much as blunt irony. “It’s a slight stab at what humans are doing. Building and investing on the coast with inevitable rising seas is the same as settling in the vicinity of a dormant volcano. We put a lot of faith in denial, and a lot of comfort in a ‘down the road’ mentality,” Williams explains of humanity’s ongoing dark dance with civilization, conservation, and perpetual conquest. The logging industry basically decimated the Smokies before the range was designated a national park. That still puzzles me deeply. How did they think that was OK for the balance of nature? Because there were so many trees?”
Thunderstorm at Two Mile Beach features the same shoreline from a different vantage point, yet now the forest seems to be retracting upward into a symmetrical, arrow-like shape, a looming entity now conjuring the strength to either leave its longtime coastal home altogether, or even aim its miles-long point downward, to rightfully exterminate the invasive species — us — that has co-opted its coastline. The Departure from Comfort offers a picture standing at the peak of a mountain, a sight that seems to touch on moments of insight or even a possible rite of passage. “It’s not portraying the climbing up a mountainside; rather, it’s a boy wistfully looking toward his past, his simplicity and, most notably, mental comfort. I wanted the birds and ospreys to convey a sense of movement, as he is slowly pulled away from the beach in the valley, glancing on the tips of his toes one last time before the inevitable smoke in the mountains envelop his ‘past’ into the haze, which most know as being the predominant feature of these particular mountains. And everyone else is climbing down, noticeably older than the boy.”
Collectively, the new works seem to riff on progressions: a map of unsullied landscapes, a welcome entrance onto the footpath of the unreal, then rappelling deep into the dream-fired echoes of full-tilt surrealism. “I want to have both the fantastic and phantasmagoric, but not depart from those certain images you sometimes just don’t want to add anything to. It can also kind of confuse the audience, keeping them guessing if something was actually really there in the work, or if it was mechanically placed,” says William. “Part of the show’s name, Confusion of the Dream, alludes to the real separateness of each one of our own interpretations of dream productions. Some like to wander in dreams; some try to find deeper meaning.”