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Zagorod. The Suburbs of Petersburg, 2007

«The Last Boy Scout»

«The Art to Live In Art»

Frank Williams belongs to that pretty common type of Americans who are especially stubborn: those “tough nuts” that look for adventures and put their lives on the line, which root and blossom in strange environments. The environment resists them as much as possible: the soil cracks with anger; the wind knocks them off their feet; not a drop falls from the sky but he still plants roots somewhere in Guatemala or, let’s say, Bangladesh. In several years he will be getting a friendly nod at the local pub, and soon he will be treated as a member of the community and pampered as a local star.

Frank Williams settled in Moscow more than ten years ago during a pretty rough time. He demonstrated special freeze resistance, recklessness and a fighter’s spirit. He was scared neither by the devastation nor by the immaterial playful flow of artistic life at that time, that is to say no market for the arts, no institutions necessary for its normal existence. Especially ill-considered was the partisan, secluded and self-contained nature of the art scene. None of these prevailing problems impeded him: he opened an atelier and jumped headlong into the artistic and communal life. He started to create symbolic images advocating freedom and justice, suggesting ways to make Russian life better in the traditional edificatory and symbolic manner: “The Yolk”, “Crisis”, and “Prometheus”! He was just like the Russian intelligentsia of 1960s that was “boiling up” in kitchens! Today we see his vision as a positive one, but in those times his simple-hearted, optimistic thinking, social activism, and especially his complete lack of interest in artistic intrigues irritated many people. Fashionable galleries and curators ignored him but he did not care. Dressed in neat working-overalls just like a “blue collar” workman from middle-of-nowhere America, he forged, cast and welded in his Moscow studio. His support came from curators of provincial museums - modest people without strong ambitions who cared more about the interests of museum-goers than their own place in the artistic hierarchy. In the museums of Volga, Ural and Siberia regions where Williams had his museum tour viewers welcomed the sculptor. Everything was clear: the guy talked about life. “Crisis”: the broken cross-sleeper and a germinated potato. “Escape from Sacrifice”? It was just like Vysotsky sang: “They cornered me…” I remember that the audiences of the Russian Museum also liked Williams right away. After his exhibition the sculpture “Next Stop” stayed in the Russian Museum’s collection. The imagery of the piece, which symbolized overcoming all possible inertias, was close to the Russian avant-garde. After the exhibition tour it became clear to me why Williams needs all these headaches and why he ultimately works in Russia: To receive the naive and genuine reaction of the audience that has been long forgotten in the West. The democratic idea of art, being an instrument of public consciousness, is still strong in Russia. Maybe it is a slow response. Maybe it is naivety. But it is strong. This factor is very appealing for Williams, especially when keeping in mind the strongly structured and stable art life within the American society. Contemporary American art is pretty sterile and institutionalized. It does not give chance to talk about pain and grief the way it’s done in the Russian tradition: emotionally, “tearing a shirt off one’s chest” as they say. The contemporary Russian art does not use this possibility either, but at least the tradition of it still exists. Williams sensed the unspent narrative ness in the Russian life. Art is hermetically sealed but life is open: streets scream; actors fool; barge haulers (reference to Ilya Repin’s, “Barge Haulers of the Volga”) pull their rope just like 100 years ago.
Frank’s sculptures capture all of it; even the barge haulers.
He is sitting in his Moscow studio caring very little about fame and material success. What he does care about is the war in Iraq, Palestinian problems and disasters in the Kusbass mines. They become subject matters of his sculptures and his poetry.

The last boy scout.

I am writing all this not only to make you admire this rare disappearing type. The point is that Williams belongs to our kin; he is a suburban guy. Born in the rural state of Missouri and trained in Arkansas, he in his early years understood specifics of sculpture, not only in urban conditions, but also in natural environment. He created a sculpture park in Arkansas and made many sculptures for parks and private spaces. He does the same thing in Moscow. His park and garden sculptures are based on two traditions: pop art and late American symbolic realism. The former makes him interested in material subjects and their direct speech. The latter inspires the hidden desire to tell stories. As a result, pieces created by Williams, such as a shovel stuck in the pile of potatoes, mechanisms with the human heads attached, still life on metal tables and hands with pointing fingers, the space is held together with a death hold as if indicating specific pieces of land (they have a special term for this in the West: “landmarks”). But, in your garden these sculptures and objects inspire long and honest communication. The silent communication, of course – the last boy scout knows how to hold his tongue.

By Alexander Borovsky: