New York City
Jeff Williamson is a New York-based graphic artist and designer who has run his own studio since the 1990s. He grew up in Washington, DC, received his BA in English literature and creative writing with a communications minor from the University of Miami, then moved to New York City. There he began his career as a writer working for a noted advertising trade magazine. He also became intrigued by publication design and spent considerable time in the art room learning about type, layout and paste up. During this time, he also had the unlikely opportunity of apartment sitting for the former husband of his editor, a noted art critic he had never heard of—Clement Greenberg. For the two years he lived in Clem’s apartment, he began to learn by osmosis about modern art, surrounded as he was by paintings and sculptures by Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler, Ken Noland, Jules Olitski, David Smith, even Jackson Pollack, among others. His first two years in New York he practically lived in MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and the Met and developed a great love of Pollack’s work.
When he took a new job as PR Manager at Doyle Dane Bernbach, a leading advertising agency, he came in touch with some of the great art directors and copywriters whose names are now legend in advertising and design. Getting to know Helmut Krone, Bob Gage, Roy Grace, Bob Levenson, and Bill Bernbach during his time at DDB was educational and inspired him to start taking classes at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League. When he later took a job as Manager of PR and Publications at BBDO, another powerhouse ad agency whose strength was in television, Williamson had daily contact with creative head Phil Dusenberry and his top creatives who were winning most of the big awards during that period. Meanwhile, his political leanings brought him in contact with a progressive organization that was growing in influence around the country. For several years, while working at BBDO by day, at night he worked on a design team that produced a weekly newspaper, journals, magazines, posters, pamphlets—all manner of graphic materials. After nearly a decade of polishing his skills, he felt comfortable starting his own design studio, handling clients committed to doing good in the world. His work for Big Apple Circus, a not-for-profit organization that operated innovative programs for children in addition to its popular tent show, enabled him to stretch out the most as a designer and artist.
Today he has taken that work to a new level as an artist and has shown his abstract digital collages in several group shows in New York City. He continues to be most interested in developing art books that synthesize the relationship between words and pictures.
While working as a graphic designer for the past 25 years, my work moved increasingly in the direction of the artwork I create today. I make abstract digital collages, mostly from the buildings, architectural details, streets, neighborhoods, and detritus I photograph while walking through cities. I composite anywhere from two to ten or more photos and manipulate the transparency between them, masking out certain sections, and drawing in details that help bring the final creation together. I see the pairing of the camera and Photoshop as an important tool set for contemporary artists. In my own work, it enables me to follow in the tradition of painting and collage, while exploiting the infinite power of the digital. I see in my work the influence of the Constructivists, the Cubists, Pollack, psychedelic art of the sixties, with hints of Mark Strand and contemporary figures like Mark Bradford.
Sometimes I am saddened when buildings or neighborhoods I have become fond of and feel at home in, are torn down and replaced by something glitzier and, to my mind, less humanistic. This is particularly true in New York City, which has a long history of destroying and recreating its built environment. My art enables me to maintain a grip on a city that I sometimes feel is leaving me and so many others behind. Thankfully, relics of its history are abundant, and as I walk the streets of my adopted home, I am comforted in knowing that New York is still New York. So I pay homage to the city by constructing new and unusual urban groupings that attempt to defy time and space, but are still recognizable as New York City — be it an idealized, pastiched or impossible New York City.
This is true for any city I photograph; it’s important to maintain the character of a particular city even as I endeavor to change it.
I make abstract digital collages from photographs I take while walking through cities. I composite these photos to create images that attempt to defy time and space while maintaining the character of each city.