About halfway into his speech Tuesday night, painter Peter Williams projected a photo of a tree with multiple lynching victims hanging from its limbs.
“This was not uncommon in the early 20th century. As blacks prospered, entire towns were wiped off the map,” Williams said. “Because a lot of people saw it as ‘you got too big in life, you’re coming down.'”
Williams gave the lecture as part of the University’s Visiting Artist Lecture Series. He was brought by UNC assistant professor Jina Valentine, who met Williams at an artist residency. Williams’ talk spanned decades of his career, and included recent pieces of his work which will be on display in the Hanes Art Center until Sept. 28.
Grim scenes and dark history have helped shape Williams' artistic style. His paintings use vibrant colors and a style that first appears comical to address disturbing and divisive issues. His style borders on the psychedelic and surreal.
In response to a series of police shootings of people of color in 2015 and 2016, Williams painted multiple works of a superhero dubbed "N-Word." N-Word can be seen in Williams’ paintings violently saving people of color from police brutality and falling in love with Libertas, the goddess of liberty. Some attending the talk found William’s focus on social issues and use of history to be thought-provoking.