Bernard Williams counts billboards, Spiderman, baroque Italian portraits, and “those paintings you see at the end of Good Times” among the influences that have shaped his ten-year career as a painter. Then last year he saw a video on Wassily Kandinsky at the Terra Museum. The way the music on the sound track connected with Kandinsky’s abstract shapes and colors revealed a whole new perspective to the realist painter. “That show was sort of the pin that broke the bubble,” says Williams.

He rented the video and paused it at various intervals so he could examine the paintings more closely. Not long after that he started taking a new approach to his own painting: he’d put on a WBEZ jazz show or a Miles Davis tape, grab the color closest to him, and then try to transfer the energy of the music onto paper. “I was literally slinging paint on paper,” he says. “It was very much about arm gestures.”

The finished paintings, acrylic on paper, capture the spirit and flow of the music with circles and swirls, vibrant colors, collage, and recurring figures like horn players and dancers. “It’s all abstract shapes and their musical possibilities. You squeeze the music in so people can feel the energy and richness of the music moving in and out, all around.”

In one painting, Dizzy Design, drippings of red, pink, yellow, and blue surround a portrait of Dizzy Gillespie and a collage of African-patterned paper. Another piece, Deuce Dance, features a couple dancing beside a horn player in a riot of shapes and colors, with a large face overlooking the scene. “The [face] is Romare Bearden,” says Williams. “He’s sort of the director of what’s happening.”

For Williams, 30, who has an MFA in painting from Northwestern and teaches a drawing class at the Art Institute, these paintings are just the first step; he wants to take his synthesis of European art, contemporary African art, realism, and abstract expressionism even further. “Jazz musicians took swing music and did something new. I want to paint from my heart and gut and do something new that stands on the shoulders of the old.”

“The Body and Soul of Jazz,” an exhibit of 23 paintings by Williams, is on display at the Southport Gallery, 3755 N. Southport, through September 10. Gallery hours are 6 to 9 PM Thursday and Friday and 1 to 5 Saturday. Call 327-0372 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.