Documentary shows a compellingly dark side of art on Cape Cod

Haunting and complex--the art of Richard Williams showcased in new exhibit and documentary

 "I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy." - Charles Baudelaire


   Fascinating attendees and artwork at the opening for Richard Williams' show at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. All photos by Cheryl Kain.

By Cheryl Kain

With Halloween around the corner, the artwork of Richard Williams at Cape Cod Cultural Center was timed perfectly, yet this exhibition was far more than a scary plunge down the dark side. Autumnal themes, timeless beauty, appreciation of nature, and a comprehensive respect for the Feminine aspect informed the experience from the moment I stepped through the door. Greeted by a black-caped man with a top hat, I walked into the reception room. Many attendees and artist’s models were dressed up in wings, as nymphs, with sparkles or full makeup. There was a feast of photo-collage, paintings, and more in a bountiful display of artwork, masks and poetry. Otherworldly, ethereal, earthy, sumptuous and spirit-filled are words that came to mind.

Richard Williams with his Grassman mask. Photo by Cheryl Kain.

“My head spins with art twenty four hours a day,” says Donald “Donny” Martel, best friend to artist Richard “Rick” Williams. Rick and Donny knew each other since first grade, and both attended art school - Rick at the Art Institute of Boston, Donny at Emerson College. Partners in art and crime for over thirty years, they began socializing as juniors in high school and have collaborated artistically ever since.

While Donny travelled with the Navy for twenty years, he sent ideas for storyboards to Rick from Jordan, or wherever he was stationed. “Through three wars, we never stopped creating,” says Martel.

Reading poetry, performing skits in costume, venturing into surrealism and themes of romance and mid-1700 to early 1800s antiquity, the art partners’ collaborative is influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Pre-Raphaelites including John William Waterhouse, and French poets such as Baudelaire. While both Williams and Martel each have their separate expressions, the Renaissance men seem to bring out complimentary creativity in the other. Rick assists Donny with visual art; Donny assists Rick with poetry. Their vision continues to expand, moving towards poetry readings, costumes, and music into further film exploration.

“I champion the human spirit,” says Williams. “I like the people that go deep, that are kind and not afraid to embrace the darkness.” Donny adds, “We entertain our artistic demons but we’re kind and don’t support violence; we all feel isolated and try to make the darkness into something beautiful. The struggle of art is to keep your vision pure, in the face of a society that wants more and more conformity.”

See a preview of the documentary above.

David Silver, filmmaker of Sacred Rage, enjoyed checking out Williams' art book during coffee meetings at Starbucks. Twenty years later, David took a look at an attic- and house full of Rick’s art and was moved to help get his work to a larger audience. “He’s writing poetry, taking photographs, coloring them, making frames, and painting. It’s pathological! He lives in his far-right brain. Rick is the hardest working artist on Cape Cod,” enthused Silver.

A self-described “video-nerd” by nature, Silver began the artist documentary six years ago, when Rick was struggling and his best friend, Donny came back from 20 years in the Navy. “There had been a lot of losses in Rick’s life. There’s a thread in the film about suicide in the underground art scene on Cape Cod,” he says, referencing sensitively captured footage of three of Rick and Donny’s friends who wound up taking their own lives.

The compelling documentary was visually lush, revealing the talented artist, his compadre Martel, and other friends, including the models who are both muse and friend to Richard. David Silver captured the essence of the artist--Williams is self-aware, filled with humility and curiosity, with wisdom to spare and insight into the shadow side of the psyche. I found the film moving, inspiring, and well-edited with unexpectedly laugh-out-loud vignettes by Donny Martel.

Artists must create to live, and live to create. As documentaries go, Sacred Rage was exceptional. Richard Williams’ art and Sacred Rage is a powerful testimonial to “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

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