Harry Williford is transforming landscapes into explosions of contrasting colors for his latest exhibition at Gallery XII. “Reinvented” showcases over a dozen new works by the veteran painter whose interest has recently shifted from conventional sceneries to colorful abstracts. The show will be on display throughout most of this month.
“I’ve always painted traditional landscapes. It was getting stale. I needed a change,” he said. “Last year, I read a new biography about Vincent van Gogh. One of the things I picked up was that late in his life, he discovered the power of complementary colors.”
That anecdote is an appropriate parallel to Williford’s own life. He was first exposed to art in sixth grade during the heyday of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, when he received a yearlong scholarship at the newly built Wichita Art Museum. The experience fostered a lifelong fascination with art that was deepened by his marriage to his wife, Mary Ellen Williford. An accomplished painter herself, she has been working as an artist for most of their married life and is a fellow member of Gallery XII. Williford said his interest evolved out of watching her work.
“I had two careers really before doing art,” he said. “I served in the Navy and I was hired in at Boeing after college. Forty-one years later, I retired as the vice president of Boeing military airplanes. I needed something to keep me busy.”
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That was 23 years ago, and he has certainly been busy ever since. He took drawing lessons from Betty Dickerson, whom he credits with having helped shape his basic philosophy about art.
“You never really see something until you draw it,” he said of the creative process. "When you draw or paint, a new understanding develops for what is there.”
Representational landscapes made up the bulk of his earlier work, produced in acrylic and watercolors. Eventually, he became more interested in abstracts, and like van Gogh, is now producing more colorful and contrasting pieces later in life. He and his wife have traveled often to galleries in Santa Fe and Taos, N.M., and the influences of the vibrant styles there can be identified readily in his new works.
The exhibition is a fanciful swirl of colors and lines, with some of the paintings being clear abstractions, while others possess a more scenic quality. “Harvest” features a discrete silo and barn behind a field of goldenrods that resemble grains, planted in a ground that is a mix of black, purple, blue and red. “Yellow Landscape” is a fusion of color and texture, with modeling paste augmenting a purple streak amid a sea of yellow, accented by strokes of green and orange. Yellow and purple are Williford’s favorite contrasting colors.
“Prism,” one of the most popular works in the new series, showcases a rainbow of colors pitted against the sun. Another piece is a multi-hued re-creation of outer space; space is a landscape that Williford says is sort of an abstract by its very nature.
Williford said he doesn’t draw the composition first, but rather creates it as he paints. Sometimes he has an idea for where he will go, but generally he creates as he goes along. He gets much of his inspiration from flipping through magazines and reimagining landscapes and scenes he has witnessed.
“I look for lines, shapes, colors. I find some neat inspiration in ads from magazines even,” he said. “Prisms was the inspiration for that … hold the prism up to the sunlight and you get a rainbow.”