Years ago, while a Professor of Art at George Washington University, the virtuoso painter William Woodward inspired many generations of students. Now, decades later, a former student, Katty Ansari Biglari, has invited him to exhibit in a show she has organized with ART4US Coop, the art group she helped start a couple of years ago. Her professor agreed to participate because he is inspired by the theme of the exhibit and the work of the next generation. And so, the circle of inspiration continues - feeding on the past while creating a new present.
How fitting that the exhibit is taking place this year as the invitation is inspired by Marcel Proust and it is the centenary of his death. The curator, Katty Biglari, has asked participating artists to consider the Proustian effect as described in The Remembrance of Things Past, making “sense of scents” that reach into the past and creating a material object that captures these feelings. Artists are always collecting sensory information and draw on this collection tucked away in the far reaches of their minds. In turn, that work of art aims to trigger a series of sensory reactions in the viewer.
The artistic results of this invitation will be on display at Gallery B in Bethesda starting February 8, 2023. It is an honor for the group to have an eminent artist in our midst, so we asked William Woodward to describe his reaction to the exhibition prompt and to reflect a bit on his own career.
ART4UScoop: Professor Woodward, you have had a long and illustrious career as a painter and teacher. Can you highlight some of the achievements that have brought you the most satisfaction?
William Woodward: There are two career highlights, overlapping in the same period. One, while I was a painting professor at George Washington University, and the other as a practicing artist.
1. In my years at GW, in concert with teaching my painting courses, I directed a privately funded program called The Distinguished Visiting Artist Series. This enabled me, each semester, to invite famous, or outstanding, contemporary artists--sculptors, painters, ceramicists, photographers, and printmakers from all over the world--such as Jeanne-Claude and Christo, Larry Rivers, Helen Frankenthaler, Wayne Thiebaud, and many others. They each stayed for a week as “Guests of the Art Department,” and shared their diverse viewpoints, demonstrated their techniques in lectures and master classes, and offered individual critiques of our undergraduate and graduate students' works in progress.
I am proud that thanks to this program, I was able to introduce my students to a boundless sea of possibilities, without commitment to any specific artistic dogma.
2. As a painter, the most satisfying experience was the creation and execution, over a long stretch of time, of The Greatest Show on Earth, a famous mural that is now displayed in the permanent collection of the John & Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, in Sarasota, Florida. This was by far my most exciting project, for three fundamental reasons:
First, I have always enjoyed the muscular, physical requirements of large-scale mural painting. Second, I welcomed the opportunity to embody the vision offered through someone else’s patronage, which is always an intellectual, emotional, and imaginative challenge. And third, it was a refreshing opportunity to display my knowledge of human and animal anatomy in dramatic foreshortening and in spatial illusionism.
The Circus mural provided me, on a grand scale, the physical, the creative and intellectual opportunity to create a world that no one, including myself, had ever seen before; the rarest of pleasures.
ART4UScoop: The curator of “Scents of it All” is a former student of yours from George Washington University; what inspired you to answer the Open Call?
William Woodward: When one of my favorite students, Katayoon Ansari Biglari, told me about the show, I replied that it was a subject I have long found interesting. After having completed a series on The Seven Deadly Sins, I had been contemplating doing another series on the timeless theme of The Five Senses. And I welcomed the opportunity to participate in a group show with one of my former students.
ART4UScoop: Could you talk about the painting “The Sense of Smell” that you are exhibiting in this show?
William Woodward: It is difficult to find an original “take” on a familiar theme--such as Still Life, Sunsets, Venice, Portraits, the Five Senses, etc. After thinking about this, I recalled, as a father, that special feeling of smelling my baby’s forehead, which is an experience that has been shared by all parents and grandparents, throughout the ages. So, it is a timeless kind of thing.
“The Scent of an infant” by William Woodward and many other pieces of art by other artists will be on display at the exhibit: “The Scents of it All” February 8- March 3, 2023, Gallery B in Bethesda MD