Fletcher Williams III doesn’t paint sweeping coastal landscapes of his native Lowcountry, though Charleston does play a major role in his work. Williams often draws on Holy City history and current events to produce sculptures and paintings that explore race, racism, and pop culture’s connection to it all. Last March, his “Souvenir” installation in a former photography studio on Spring Street included a series of ink and graphite drawings depicting recent reports of gun violence—some incorporating 18th-century Gullah women—framed by dozens of handmade palmetto roses. In October, a rose-filled treble clef adorned posters for the Colour of Music Festival.
After graduating from the prestigious Cooper Union School of Art in Manhattan, Williams moved home in 2013, where he works full time as an artist. In 2015, Williams’ work was on display at University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. He also received a $5,000 grant from Art Matters, which has helped fund his forthcoming installation, “Beyond the Rainbow.”
Discovering race: My dad’s black, and my mom’s white. I’ll never forget one day in elementary school, when my mom came in and another kid exclaimed, “Your mom is white?” He was shocked. I’d never thought anything of it before.
Behind “Souvenir”: When I came back in 2013, I’d read The Post and Courier and see stories about young black kids being killed in shootings or arrested for murder. I grew up in Ashley Villas in North Charleston, and while it wasn’t known for crime, I did have close friends who lived in areas where gun violence occurred. I felt like I had a personal relationship with some of the articles. I wanted to expand those kids’ narratives as well as contrast them to the history and symbolism of the palmetto rose.
The next installment: I’m exploring some of my own views on prayer, dealing with violence, reconciliation, and hope. I attended a church downtown as a child, and although I don’t practice any religion now, I’m interested in its importance, specifically here in Charleston. That’s the foundation of my next work—and maybe there’s a little criticism in there, too.
Speaking up: I also want to bring attention to the neglect of North Charleston and that area’s lack of diversity. I’m starting to get more comfortable making statements like that. I’d never considered myself an activist, and I’m still trying to figure out how I can speak up as an artist and use my work as my platform.
Home life: My girlfriend and I moved into a house in Park Circle in 2014—I use the detached garage as my studio space. She went to School of the Arts and lived in New York, too, while going to college there. We met here one summer while I was selling prints and some small paintings at the Market.
On Charleston: I love that this city is constantly changing and that it’s infused with incredible history. There’s a lot of culture, and there’s a wave of young people who are bringing in new perspectives. I’m hoping that the older, established crowd will allow for change. There’s an energy that’s about to hit Charleston. I came back at the right time.
For information on Williams’ “Beyond the Rainbow” exhibition, click here.