Airbrush, Hand-painting, Stencil
12.25 × 9.25 × 1 in
San Francisco, CA
Some artists’ work is discussed for its ability to create entire worlds, this is admirable, but Scott Williams’s artists’ books and paintings operate with a far more stellar cosmology. Williams creates parallel galaxies and universes and even new dimensions of space/time. To gaze into a Scott Williams piece is to go down a wormhole of existencil California psychedelia.
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Arrow Up is one of the most important artworks of the GOAT Stencil Pirate Godfather Scott Williams. It is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful, illuminated manuscripts of visionary Californian/Turtle Island psychedelic scripture. The entrancing compositions range from the sanctification of Western Pan-Americana icons to profoundly complex ‘abstractions’. The book is made with the epitome of stencil cutting and airbrush painting skills and Williams’s paintings evidence unimaginable feats of creative human labor and visionary imaginative skills. His intricate stencil cutting and the addition of microscopic iridescent glass beads to the paints (the same used for traffic marking paints) make for an almost impossible-to-photograph visual environment of numerous viewing perspectives, adding numerous experiential layers to the already complicated tessellations that at times seem reminiscent of the genius of M. C. Escher. The book-form is the perfect frame for these small portals into the cosmos, the slightest changes in the level of the book can produce almost completely different palettes and compositions across the pages.
Arrow Up is basically Williams’ A-list codex of his most accomplished small paintings. He started the book in the 1990s and worked on it over the course of over 20 years, completing the book during the Covid-19 Lockdown of 2020 at the point when his eyesight problems made it impossible for him to cut stencils and deal with airbrushing. The book is a unique, exceptional, and stunning work of book production. It’s a book that resonates with other great illuminated manuscripts and codices. The book is a functional, random access, aesthetic kaleidoscope, documenting the specific sunlight of the California Coast and the culture that sunlight seeded, (and still sustains), as one of the most creatively active loci of human cultural production. Arrow Up is one of the last 7 available unique painted books from Scott’s personal collection.
Born in Los Angeles, Williams grew up as a child in Santa Barbara and now resides in San Francisco, where he has lived most of his adult life. Williams is an epic hero of the Bay Area street art scene that blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s and is probably about as big as a cult hero that you can be while still remaining occult with OG street cred. Williams is internationally known for his stencil work, first starting on the streets as a stencil graffiti artist, he later painted numerous canvases, boards, cars, storefronts, and murals. In 2005 Williams was awarded the esteemed Adeline Kent Award from the San Fransisco Art Institute.
For almost three decades Williams’s work was everywhere in the Mission District, huge stencil graffiti walls, storefronts, and interiors, huge paintings in various galleries, monster installations at area nightclubs, cars driving down the street, including one extremely notable 1970’s Volkswagon Bug. At the height of fame, Williams was as well known for his street attitude. He frequently refused to participate in openings and promotional events, vigorously avoiding the spotlight, preferring it to shine on his artwork. His legendary Mission District apartment, known as the “Watch Your Step” house, has its entire interior covered with stencil work. Much like William Faulkner, Williams spent decades developing work on the walls of his abode. In 2012 S.F. gallerist Steven Wolf recreated Scott’s home in his gallery, moving much of the actual artwork, and recreating the paneling, molding, and walls of Scott’s home.
Extremely influential in the original street-art-based San Francisco Mission School, its hipster-bastard child the New Mission School, and the Global Stencil Pirate movement, Scott Williams was a leader in the painterly expansion of stencil and airbrush media. The relentless intensity of William’s artwork compels you to see the way he sees, to think the way he thinks; his drawings draw you into his own parallel universes. Williams’ work is pan-American in its roots and unique to California culture. It’s a hybrid mix of both Catholic and indigenous Mexican paper-cutting techniques, with the intelligence and sardonic commentary of Jose Guadalupe Posada, and the spice of modern Chicano aesthetics (Williams has lived in the Mission District of San Francisco for about 20 years). Throw in some beat, punk, and psychedelic San Francisco influences and you have an exceptionally original and potent aesthetic vernacular. (I suggest that Williams’s creative practice shows that Native Californian aesthetics and cultures are some of the primary sources of California psychedelia.)
Note that the book was bound by well-loved and respected artist, and cultural organizer Carrie Galbraith (1956-2018, member of San Francisco Cacophony Society and author of “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society”).
Within the eccentric and diverse Booklyn canon, Scott’s work stands with the artists’ books of San Fransisco Graffiti Godfather Cuba (AKA Clarence Robbs) Karuk Nation hero Brian D. Tripp, urban folk artist Fred Rinne, revolutionary curator René Yañez, and Mission District meta-historian Dana Smith, as one of the columns of the isolate temple of the root wisdom of Northern Californian artists’ bookmakers. This group of artists developed an important historical body of books whose aesthetics are completely immersed in Pan-American/Turtle Island culture that have almost no cultural acknowledgment of Anglo-European book art aesthetics and in many instances are both overtly and subtly critical of the white supremacism that often informs constrictions on bookmaking culture while privileging Pan-American and other hybrid cultures.*
*An extended West Coast version of this cohort would include James Enos from Portland, Oregon, and Carletta Carrington Wilson from Tacoma, Washington, both of whose work also taps into that particular orientation towards the unique palette of West Coast sunlight and culture.
Bibliotheque nationale de Luxembourg
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Florida Atlantic University, The Jaffe Book Arts Collection
Franklin and Marshall College
Hammer Museum, The University of California, Los Angeles
Harvard University Art Museums
Harvard University, Widener Library
Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts, Wits Art Museum, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
La Jolla Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
Library of Congress
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Scripps College, Denison Library
Smith College, Mortimer Rare Book Room
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kunstbibliothek
The University of California at Irvine
The University of California at Irvine
The University of California at Santa Cruz
The University of California at Berkeley, The Bancroft Library
The University of California at Los Angeles
The University of California at Santa Barbara
University of Central Florida
University of Connecticut
University of Kansas
University of Miami
University of Minnesota
University of Nevada, Reno
University of Southern California
University of Vermont
University of Wisconsin (Madison), Special Collections
Yale University, Beinecke Library