William Woodward: Traditional Themes, Modern Methods
Jill Wechsler for American Artist (1976)
The contemporary artist frequently finds himself confronting the age-old problem of the creative world: how to portray traditional themes in a modern manner, how to fuse the old with the new. Solving this paradox is the theme of William Woodward’s work. He is definitely a traditionalist in his focus on genre scenes, landscapes, and still life as subjects for his paintings. His concern for paintings and his meticulous technique of applying layers of glazes derive from the Old Masters themselves.
Yet his paintings avoid being musty or stale. His subjects are real people involved in ordinary actions that convey a very alive and contemporary flavor. And his delight in color, emphasizing high tones from all corners of the spectrum, is modern in every way.
In 25 years of painting, Woodward has contributed to restoring faith in the continued vitality of traditional painting, helping to secure its niche in the modern art world.
Woodward likes to observe people in the middle of an ordinary activity; he captures them in a moment of time, and he lingers to look. Whether it’s pedestrians along a quay or women gathering oysters, the figures appear self-absorbed and unaware of being observed. His scenes are not rushed or urgent, and we are allowed a long look to see what is going on: a kind of frozen, yet natural, action.
Although essentially a realist, abstract design plays a key role in Woodward’s work. Pattern and areas of color infuse all his paintings, and, in the individual color areas, he delights in playing with abstract surfaces and shapes. “All art is abstract in its details,” he says. “The details are subjected to large masses, which create the overall impact which the viewer can understand.”
Woodward continues to seek the poignant mood, the unexpected color, the novel juxtaposition of shapes found in familiar scenes. He aims to infuse a certain timelessness into his work, to rise above the fashions and fads of a particular moment and create works of enduring artistic value.
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