ROBERT WILLIAMS: THE WEST COAST ART ICON OF AMERICA
Commixing the hot rods, hot girls and bug-eyed men with lashings of sex and violence all wrapped in biting sarcasm, the underground cartoonist, Robert Williams, is revered for his lurid psychedelic imagery in Zap Comix.
Founder of Juxtapoz Art and Culture Magazine, Robert Williams was born on March 2, 1943, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At an early age, he displayed an interest in art and drawing. As a child, he spent some time in his father's drive-in restaurant in Alabama and there he fascinated with the frequented hot rodders. These childhood influences can be seen throughout his works in later life.
Williams mastered painting the specular reflection from chromed auto parts and later drew the chrome parts for other comic artists, who drew the rest of the auto. In 1963, he moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in art courses at Los Angeles City College and for a very short period, he studied at California Institute of Arts.
Robert Williams is best known for his 1979 painting, Appetite for Destruction, which provided both the title and cover art for Guns N' Roses’ debut album, but it caused so much controversy that Geffen Records placed it on the inside sleeve.
In the late 1960s, Williams worked with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the Walt Disney of custom car culture. While working with him Williams created his “Super Cartoons” paintings that sold very well. After leaving Roth, he joined the Zap Comix collective of artists and flourished within the nonconformist, anti- establishment art movement of that time.
In 1969, Williams created his seminal underground comix antihero, Coochy Cooty, which was unleashed in 1970 in Coochy Cooty Men's Comics and in Zap Comix #5.
During 1980s, Williams became involved with the punk art movement and published “Zombie Mystery Paintings” and “The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams”. The popularity of his work was established in avant-garde galleries, such as Billy Shire's La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 01 Gallery, and the Tamara Bane Gallery.
In 1997, Williams displayed a one-man show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, which was followed by two more shows in 2000 and 2003. His work was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial and he was featured in MOCA curator Paul Schimmel’s groundbreaking show Helter Skelter: LA art in the 90s.
Despite his unique paintings, Williams has been critically snubbed and vilified for decades but never gave up his art. He says, “Everyone has a certain appreciation for cartoons, but no one really wants to think of them as ‘fine arts'. The obstacle that stood in the way of cartoon is fucking sophistication.”