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Mervyn Williams

Mervyn Williams’ paintings are concerned with perception. The intrigue of the illusion in the works cannot be deciphered in reproduction. One must stand in front of the artworks themselves to understand the mastery of paintwork and chiaroscuro that trick the eye into seeing flat surfaces as low relief. When confronted with his painting, the initial assumption is of a textured surface – on closer inspection, the three dimensional qualities are revealed as intricacies of paintwork which belie the flat surface of the canvas.

Luminosity abounds in Williams’ works. A subtle variation of tone within the monochrome paintings creates the illusion of an ethereal light stemming from an indeterminate source. Some appear to be glowing from within, while others seem to be lit from behind, like silk held up to the sun. Though purely abstract, the textural qualities of these works evoke allusions to the world around us; patterns on sand left by the receding tide, peeling, blistered paint on a derelict building, undulating folds of fabric or a cracked concrete footpath. In his works, light, illusion and allusion unite, offering a tantalising visual exploration of the painted surface.

Although best known as a painter, throughout his distinguished career Mervyn Williams’ artistic practice has also encompassed design, printmaking and sculpture. Born in Whakatane, in 1940, Williams now lives and works in Auckland. After studying at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland from 1957 – 1958, Williams briefly went into screen printing and design. He has exhibited regularly in New Zealand since 1966 and is represented in major public and private collections in New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Europe, the UK, Japan and Australia.

Early in his career, a fascination with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism led Williams to explore the mechanics of visual perception, investigating the illusionary techniques of the Pointillist artists and studying the properties of halftones and direct exposure onto photographic film. The 1981 exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, A New Spirit in Painting celebrated a renewal of interest in painting after the predominance of performance and installation art of the late 1960s and 1970s. Neo-Expressionism was the dominating movement in this exhibition, but another direction associating painting with photography was exemplified in the works of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. When Williams saw this exhibition and others like it in London and New York, a renewed interest ensued in the ability of the painted surface to convey a sense of reality even more convincing than photography can often achieve, and he revisited experiments with light, colour and texture.

Williams began to investigate through painting the immutable nature of photographs, the ability of the image to remain intact through many degrees of enlargement. Using this property as a starting point the artist employs a complex painting process involving many layers of translucent colour to build up a surface so convincing in its rendering of low relief that a perplexed audience is left uncertain of its surface properties to the point at which only the tactile experience of touch will lay the problem to rest. It is an enigmatic quality that dissipates when the artwork itself is photographed and reproduced.

In 2014 a survey exhibition was held at the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland. The exhibition titled ‘50 years of Mervyn Williams’, was curated by Dr Edward Hanfling and included work of remarkable variety and originality, covering a period of more than fifty years. It was at this survey show that Ron Sang Publications launched the book ‘Mervyn Williams : From Modernism to the Digital Age’ by Dr Edward Hanfling.

Mervyn Williams lives in Auckland and is represented by ARTIS Gallery


2015 – Façade, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2013 – Colour Corrected, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2010 – Mervyn Williams: 20 Years of Painted Illusion, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2008 – Round and Round, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland


2014 – Edward Hanfling, Mervyn Williams : From Modernism to the Digital Age, Ron Sang Publications
Dunn, Michael, Looking Back: Mervyn at 70, Art New Zealand #136
2010 – Chin, David, Shades of Meaning, Gow Langsford Gallery
1999 – Dunn, Michael, Contemporary Painting in New Zealand, Craftsman House
1996 – Brown, Warwick, One Hundred New Zealand Paintings, Godwit Press
1995 – Barton, Christine, Surface Tension, Auckland Art Gallery
1992 – Williams, M, Between Darkness and Light, Catalogue Essay
1991 -Dunn, Michael, A Concise History of New Zealand Painting, Bateman
1989 – Panaho, Rangi, Points of Departure, Sarjeant Gallery
Wedde, Ian, Mervyn Williams: Paintings With His Feet in Wanganui, Art New Zealand #51
1986 – Bett, Elva New Zealand Art: A Modern Perspective, Reed Methuen
1985 – Dunn, Michael, Mervyn Williams: A Vision of Light, Art New Zealand 36
1983 – Parr, Chris, The Grid, Lattice and Network, Art New Zealand 28
Curnow, Wynston, Seven Painters/The Eighties: The Politics of Abstraction, Art New Zealand #28
Bogle, Andrew, Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art: The Grid, Auckland Art Gallery,
1982 – Schulz, Derek, Differences of Intention, The Listener, 9 October
1982 – Schulz, Derek, Seven Painters/The Eighties, Sargeant Gallery, Wanganui
1978 – New Zealand Prints 1977, Auckland Art Gallery
1976 – New Zealand Prints 1976, Auckland Art Gallery
1974 – Cape, Peter, Prints and Print Makers in New Zealand, Collins
1969 – Mervyn Williams, Arts and Community, July


1957-58 Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland


1988 Artist in Residence, Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui
1981 First Prize, Tokoroa Painting Award
1969 NZ Print Council Samarkand Award
1966 First Prize (Prints), Hay’s Art Award


New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC
New Zealand Embassy, Consulate General New York
Private Collections USA, Canada, Europe, UK, Japan and Australia
All major public collections and many private collections in New Zealand


2015 – Façade, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2013 – Colour Corrected, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2010 – Mervyn Williams: 20 Years of Painted Illusion, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2008 – Round and Round, ARTIS Gallery, Auckland
2007 – In the Round, Janne Land Art Gallery, Wellington
2006 – Recent Paintings, Judith Anderson Gallery, Hawke’s Bay
2005 – Selected Works, Judith Anderson Gallery, Hawkes Bay
2004 – Selected Paintings, Janne Land Art Gallery, Wellington
2003 – Southern Oscillation, Milford Galleries, Dunedin
2002 – Quintessence, Michael Carr, Sydney
Quatrains, Janne Land Art Gallery, Wellington
2001 – Quintessence, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
1999 – In the Nature of Things, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
In the Nature of Things, @ SPAN Gallery, Melbourne
1997 – In the Round: Recent Paintings, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
1995 – Exposures: New Paintings, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
1993 – New Work, Brooker Gallery, Wellington
Recent Painting, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
1991 – Between Darkness and Light, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
1989 – Wood Works, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
In Different Light, Portfolio Gallery, Auckland
Works on Paper, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Recent Paintings, Brooker Gallery, Wellington
Points of Departure, Sargeant Gallery, Wanganui
1988 – Works in Progress, Sargeant Gallery, Wanganui
1987 – Recent Paintings, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
Recent Gouaches, Portfolio Gallery, Auckland
1986 – Recent Paintings, Louise Beale Gallery, Wellington
1984 – Recent Paintings, Louise Beale Gallery, Wellington
Recent Paintings, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
1983 – Twelve Gouaches, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
1982 – Recent Paintings, Louise Beale Gallery, Wellington
1981 – Recent Painting, RKS Art, Auckland
1980 – Recent Paintings, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington
Recent Paintings, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Recent Paintings, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
1979 – Recent Paintings, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
1975 – Paintings and Drawings, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland