The Art of Everything By Mary Anne Pankhurst An interview with Canadian Modernist Painter, Cyril Williams

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CFN – On Thanksgiving weekend, at our grandkid’s cottage near Kinmount, Ontario, I got up in the burgeoning pre-dawn orange light to prepare the big bird.  But that was my secondary goal for the day.  I had something far richer in mind.


So after slipping the 20-pounder into the oven, I quickly showered, dressed, fed the dogs, and left a sleeping household for the drive into town for the annual Studio Tour – much like our own Apples & Art – and that’s where I first discovered the uniquely beautiful work by Canadian modernist painter, Cyril Williams; a man who not only studied Fine Art and English Lit at the University of Toronto, but who has enjoyed a wealth of career accomplishments in printmaking, graphic design, technical illustration, advertising and event marketing among others.


I recently got to interview Cy who offered many useful and interesting things to think about.  Not the least of which (in the context of self-portraits) was:


“Leave your flaws for people to see.”


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But the power of vulnerability wasn’t our starting point.  I first wanted to know how people react to his abstract work.


Not surprisingly, Cyril says there are people who just don’t get it.  Yet, not getting it isn’t same as disliking it.  Cyril says there are “brave people” who take his painting class on the modernist approach, and that he loves them for their bravery.


So what is key to the modernist approach?


“You have to begin by taking small exercises in organized chaos, in letting go, in giving yourself up. You have to be intuitive.”


Got it.


OK Cy, but what if you’re honest with your feelings, what if you truly paint “for yourself” and what if people still don’t like?


Cy says:  “Every once in a while I like to hear it.”   Or, as he once told a National Post reporter: It shouldn’t really matter whether someone likes your work or doesn’t, so long as you’re true to your passion.  Besides the people who do love your work always come back, and I’ve got hundreds of pieces out there.


Subjectivity and taste aside, Cyril says one of his biggest challenges is tackling the supersized canvas: “They just take so much paint, so much material…”


To get a picture of what he means, Cyril uses lots (!) of paint.  In multiple layers, as well as glazing and medium-mixing techniques to achieve a kind of Rubenesque luminosity without the somberness so common to the 16th and 17th century Flemish Masters.


But he also explains that beyond the amount of paint, it’s the time that’s most taxing:  “I’m so anxious to work on new ideas.”


I admire his ingenuity and bravery and look forward to his spring 2014 show that will feature the mega pieces.


 To learn more about Cyril you canvisit his Facebook page.   LINK

So remember:  If there’s art in what you do, I want to hear from you.  You can reach Mary Anne via

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  1. Great article…

    I think I may even try and buy that painting he’s working on. Looks like a girl I fell for once upon a time…

  2. Good article Mary Anne. Art means different things to different people. Case in point. at an art exhibition this one person had painted a flower. One long stem, no leafs, rounded petals, no shading or detail whatsoever. Something like a child would paint. Lo and behold it was the first one to be sold. I guess it is safe to literally say different strokes for different folks.

  3. Thank you, and so true, Stellabystarlight. Attractions can’t always be explained. Nor should they be. They’re personal. I love what Cy says about our flaws – to leave them for people to see – … just that has value

  4. Yes Mary Anne….I must keep his words of wisdom in mind. I get too caught up in perfection and detail. It drives me crazy at times…..**smile** His work is awesome!!!!!

  5. I would be happy to do a piece on your work, Stellaby…let admin know if you’re interested. I certainly am!

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