Christopher Williams began his studio practice in 2018, but he’s been painting seriously since he was about 20 years old.
“I’ve always had a practice, even when I didn’t have a whole dedicated studio; just a little section of the house or something,” he says. He has some rituals he’s incorporated into his studio space, located in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“I usually play the same song every time I start painting,” he says. “For the last year, the song I play when I start working is ‘The Way’ by Ariana Grande.” When preparing a canvas, he’ll usually put on a movie or a fun TV show. “I love zombie action movies,” he laughs.
Williams started as an AICAD Fellow at Moore, teaching Illustration and Foundation classes, and was hired as full-time faculty starting in fall 2023. Born in Oakland, CA—a self-described Bay Area artist—Williams arrived in Philadelphia at the end of June 2022 to begin his time at Moore teaching in the Summer Art & Design Institute (SADI).
“I never thought I would be teaching at a school with predominantly women, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students,” he confesses. “The culture is just phenomenal and that’s what I really love about Moore. It’s just a sense of pride.”
Williams rose to nationwide prominence this past fall when several pieces of his artwork were featured on an episode of Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q. He got connected to the show in a way that most people find shocking.
“It was Instagram!” he laughs. “A lovely lady name Delphine who worked for The L Word and then also for BAMPFA [Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive] told me they were looking for an artist to do work on the show. There was another artist that couldn’t do it in time, which was a blessing in disguise.” They asked him to create an oil painting in two weeks, and then they came back to him with feedback and requested changes.
“I was there every single night, sometimes even until 2 am, working on the first piece,” Williams recalls. “The producer loved my work ethic, the director loved that I didn’t complain about any of the changes, and then they called me again to come back for season 3. They asked me to do painting similar to Bisa Butler’s work, but more contemporary and with my own flair.”
Williams has a show opening at the Jonathan Carver Moore Gallery in San Francisco in April, and he will be included in a May exhibition at the Friesen Lantz Gallery, where he is represented, in Sun Valley, ID. As for any other possible television features? “I can’t disclose this other network television show,” Williams says, “but they are discussing something with me, which is really cool.”
In addition to making a splash in the pop culture realm, Williams is also making a huge impact here at Moore. While he keeps his lesson plans traditional where he can, he also likes to bring a unique approach to his teaching, to encourage his students to expand their horizons. In the fall semester, he took his Color Theory class to see The Woman King. “They were like ‘woah, can we get popcorn?’” he laughs. “I told them, yeah! Just bring your notebook and write some stuff down.” The students were inspired by the colors and the costumes as well as the emotional and empowering story of the movie.
“They created these awesome pieces that were out of the norm, and a lot of them said that this was the best color class they’d ever taken. That touched me.”
The main thing Williams hopes his students learn from him is confidence.
“If you don’t have confidence, that’s a killer,” he says. “I’ve been in classes where teachers destroy their students’ confidence, even if they have skills, and they never draw again,” he reflects. “Or a professor will encourage a student to draw just one thing and not try drawing something else. I always encourage students, if they want to, to draw a Black subject, draw an Asian subject, a Latinx subject, because you’re learning, and you can learn about someone else’s culture,” he says. “That’s what I like to do: out of the box, learn about people, and confidence.”
Headshot by David Rizzio.