New book acknowledges leading abstract artist

Mervyn Williams, From Modernism to the Digital Age
Edited by Edward Hanfling
Ron Sang Publications
RRP $135

Mervyn Williams has been one of the country’s leading abstract painters for over 50 years and that history has been celebrated in a new large format book Mervyn Williams, From Modernism to the Digital Age published by Ron Sang Publications.

Ron Sang has previously published ten books on important New Zealand artists, including Ralph Hotere and Pat Hanly. 

They have all been works of art in themselves, beautifully designed and intended to show the artist's work in the best possible light. His pursuit of an individual abstract art which has a focus on form, light and colour over a number of years has made him one of the more important artists of the past 20 years, an acknowledgment which is highlighted by the publication. He has consistently produced abstract work following in the tradition of Gordon Walters and Milan Mrkusich.

The geometric shapes that he has used; the square the rectangle, the T shape and the circle have recurred in varying guises, transforming and adapting with each of his periods of work. His work has similarities to the American abstractionists such as Frank Stella and equally to the Europeans such as Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley.

Many of his works seem to be homages to the work of Mark Rothko in trying bring a luminous quality to geometric abstraction, bringing to his paintings an almost spiritual quality. The book allows us to see the evolution of Williams’ work from the geometric shapes he sketched out in the 1960s being transformed, reused and reinvented

They are still used for work completed in the last couple of years. This consistent pathway gives a sense of the artist on a mission, as though he knows the outcome in advance.

The book also provides images of the impressive body of work he created while he was the artist in residence at the Tylee Cottage in Whanganui in the 1980’s. These sculptural works were an experimental parallel development, which resulted in his painting becoming objects in themselves as well as pure paintings.

As with other Ron Sang publications, the book has high productions standards, with remarkably accurate colour reproductions managing to capture the subtlety of Williams’ paintings.

This is particularly so with some of his work of the past 20 years with his illusory paintings that challenge the eye into accepting what appears to be heavily textured works as flat surfaces.

It also aims to be informative with a range of essays as well some excellent biographical details including a number of images of the artists, his family and his studios. The artist also provides an introduction himself with comments such as wanting to create “a little oasis” and songs – songs for your eyes,” shedding another light on a way of viewing his paintings. The essays by Edward Hanfling, Michael Dunn and Leonard Bell give perceptive insights into the artist's work.