Fletcher Williams III is a sculptor and painter whose works utilize discarded wood, automotive paint, plant fibers, synthetic fibers, and metal. For Williams, these materials provide a language useful for illustrating transformations in social and cultural landscapes. He often includes Southern Hip-Hop motifs and African symbolism and artistic practices to create works reflective of human transformation, preservation, and deconstruction in the American South. Upon returning to Charleston, S.C. in 2013, he began using his practice to speak against social injustices afflicting the local African American community.
In an email interview with this North Charleston-based artist, we ask questions about his style, his influences, and what emotions he hopes to evoke from people that view his work. He’ll also give us some insights on why he took pictures of rundown homes for his takeover of the Charleston Sticks Together Instagram account.
A lot of talented artist are known for doing one thing and doing that one thing very well. Charleston-based artist that comes to mind, in that regard, would be people like Jonathan Green or Nathan Durfee. You seem to purposely buck that trend by floating back and forth between different types of mediums for almost every exhibition. Is it a conscious effort or something you’re just compelled to do?
F: For Charleston, it seems that I’m bucking the system. For the rest of the arts community that exists beyond this city, I am working within the tradition of visual art. I’m not interested in creating one form of art. The one thing I can do well is be a visual artist. My language evolves and my materials change. Art is about experimentation and exploration. You don’t find much of either at play in Charleston.
The city of North Charleston doesn’t get nearly the same amount of credit for the work within the arts community as their southern sister city, however, North Charleston seems to be developing a reputation for being a more contemporary art type of place than others in the state. You recently worked with the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department on your latest exhibition, do you find to be the case or am I off with my assumption?
F: I’d say North Charleston has made more progress with public art. But I haven’t seen a presentation of art by either city more exciting than the 1991 Spoleto Festival exhibition titled Places with a Past. David Hammons African American Flag is one of the only pieces that remain from that festival. If Charleston continued to accommodate and welcome artists and art of that caliber, Charleston would be home to a major art fair. But of course, that festival displayed work too fearless and bold for this genteel city. I regret that I was only four years old at the time.
In a place like Charleston, your work is seen as a breath of fresh air as it is decidedly against the status quo. Why do you feel the need to do the type of art you do and what do you hope to accomplish by doing so?
F: My work is reflective of my personal experiences and interests and, I hope, illustrates that personal narrative is most important. Artists here produce very similar work. This isn’t news to anyone living in Charleston and it’s apparent to any visitors after spending an hour walking throughout downtown Charleston.
Are you able to name some specific influences on your style? Positive or negative, what type of work, people, or music has helped shaped the Fletcher3 way of art?
F: I’ve been very receptive to the changes in this environment. I grew up in North Charleston, left to attend school in New York City at The Cooper Union, and returned to Charleston in 2013. Being away for those 6 years helped me see my home in a new light. I returned to Charleston with the curiosity I developed being in the unfamiliar terrain of Manhattan. I’m interested in Southern Culture and the aesthetics of place. I’m interested in Charleston’s role in slavery, Civil War, Civil Rights and the many notable events that followed. How has history shaped this city and how does it continue to shape this city? What's preserved and what's lost? Who adapts and who disappears? My work preserves bits and pieces of people and places. I perform that task by collecting pieces of the city-discarded objects, sounds, and materials.
Obviously, as an artist, you want to evoke an emotional response from viewers. But seeing as each of your exhibitions is different from the previous one, it’s hard to say that you want people to feel one overall way about the work you do. So instead, we want to know what were the emotions you were going for in your exhibition called “Souvenir” versus the feelings you were trying to capture with your most recent work for “City Block”?
F: I don’t believe all artists are seeking an emotional response. In many instances, yes, but not all. There are segments of my work where I’ve displayed a particular sentiment. My Souvenir exhibition is one example. The bouquets of Palmetto Roses laid on the floor in the first room of the exhibition were very unsettling. Death was certainly at the forefront of that installation. The space was somber and more so after the shooting of Walter Scott. I created a space that was unfamiliar, overwhelming and unpleasant and with the use of a treasured souvenir, a palmetto rose. I created a new association for my viewer. It’s hard to "unsee" tragedy and it’s difficult to disassociate objects.
City Block was slightly different in that is was not the subject a singular motif. I worked with LED lights, the cross, discarded wood, and automotive paint. There are many materials at work and many experiences at play. City Block put forth a sense of place and awareness. Using materials and objects typically unassociated make for a new experience, an unfamiliar experience that heightens the quality of the materials. I find all of the components of shared spaces valuable and put those materials to use in City Block.
We gave you the free space to take pictures of whatever you wanted for your IG Takeover. What you gave us were eye-level views of old buildings and vacant spaces around the city of North Charleston. What was the thought behind this series of photos?
F: These are buildings I noticed most upon moving back to Charleston. This city is undergoing some rapid redevelopment. I’ve been taking more photographs lately because I’m not sure how long some of the places will remain upright. Some of the houses in the series were demolished the day after I took the photo. The rate at which something can be replaced has been so accurately represented by the quick and regular demolition of these buildings. The earth is cleared and another house or business goes up but the occupants are not the same. These photos will probably be the only documentation we have of what used to be.
Random question: Are you a fan of the Pen & Pixel style album artwork from the '90s?
F: Absolutely. It’s one of the most distinctive styles of album art ever created. It is Southern Rap. It’s decadent, surreal, and absurd. The artwork matches the aesthetic of southern rap. It’s raw and it has certainly influenced the design of local party flyers. You know it’s a Charleston party when the flyer looks like a Big Tymers album cover. But, it’s what makes the south great: “I have a 4 x 6 in postcard and I need to include pictures of all 10 of my homeboys, their cars and mine, stacks of money, bottles of champagne, a helicopter, a Ferrari, three random but attractive women in bikinis, a couple of pit bulls with diamond collars, the projects, crime scene tape, flames, and a mansion. And when you have all of that on there plus the time, location, full name and nickname of all four hosts, DJ, hours, admission price before and after 10, after party location and time, and the drink special.”