Mervyn Williams at the Sarjeant
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Mervyn Williams at the Sarjeant

Mervyn Williams at the Sarjeant


Mervyn Williams

Over the last year, the Sarjeant has been the fortunate recipient of a significant gift of major works by Mervyn Williams, from the artist and his family. This exhibition features nine wonderful paintings spanning that part of his long career from 1976 through to the most recent work of 2017.

Mervyn Williams’ relationship with the Sarjeant Gallery first began when he was included in the exhibition Seven Painters /The Eighties that was curated and toured nationally under the Directorship of Bill Milbank. In 1986 Milbank established an artist-in-residence programme based in historic Tylee Cottage and in 1988, Williams became the third artist to hold the year-long residency. Over fifty artists have now taken residency in Tylee Cottage over the last thirty plus years.

Williams cites his time in Whanganui as being a significant turning point in his career, saying ”All my preconceptions about what I might do here … were completely tipped upside down when I discovered what it was like to get out of an urban area and actually work in a very open space” Sourcing driftwood from the mouth of the Whanganui River and Castlecliff Beach, Williams created a series of wooden constructions that were a radical shift from his paintings.

Williams has always been a maverick in New Zealand art history and from the beginning of his career in the 1960s he made a commitment to creating abstract work, which at the time was received with slight consternation from the art establishment and bewilderment from a wider public.

Williams was and remains interested in the way that optical art could be seen in the same way as music and the optical works now exhibited at Sarjeant on the Quay certainly pulse, swell, vibrate and oscillate. This exhibition is bookended by optical works and in between are works that explore colour, surface, depth and illusion. All are testament to Williams’s extraordinary capacity to master his chosen medium, be it painting, printmaking, sculpture or construction.

Mervyn Williams, Indie, acrylic on canvas. Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of the Williams family, 2018

Williams is revered for his boldness and dedication to originality, and the newly gifted works on display at the Sarjeant are testament to this. Williams himself says “An artist’s significance must be measured by their powers of invention, by the originality and uniqueness of their work. Without this the work is merely imitation”

Curator & Public Programmes Manager Greg Donson says “We are enormously grateful to the artist and his family who have made this generous gift to the Gallery’s collection, as it strengthens and complements the works that have already entered the Sarjeant. We are delighted that the Gallery has had such a longstanding relationship with Williams and that this selection of works is indicative of his extraordinary output that continues with gusto”