SCENE ARTS : COLOR SPINNING : The crackling, psychedelic sculpture/performances of John Williams come to CAF

Above and below: John Williams performs "Record Projection" in 2009, with the help of record players, slides, Super-8 projectors and other mixed media. Courtesy photos
Above and below: John Williams performs “Record Projection” in 2009, with the help of record players, slides, Super-8 projectors and other mixed media.
Courtesy photos

Artist John Williams works in sound, light and color in a way that’s polar-opposite to the film composer who shares his name and makes Internet searching difficult. His work has vacillated between photography and sculpture since his days at CalArts, but all the while, his 2-D work has been trying to leap or peel itself off walls.

Still evolving after all these years, his “Record Projection” series comes to Contemporary Arts Forum this Thursday night as part of First Thursdays. The 45-minute piece is part-installation, part projection, part performance, part sound collision. It’s all Williams, though.

“I get to a point with a medium, then I sort of move it into some other medium,” he says. “It’s like I’m moving house into another house and packing stuff.”

“Record Projection” started purely as sculpture, he says, an assemblage of cast-offs and junk, small pieces on top of record players. The turntables were there to spin the art, first to rotate. Then as the work progressed, Williams used the turntables to hold colored filters and other light-manipulating objects. Music entered the work.

“At a certain point I had the realization that I was doing performance in my studio,” he said. It was at this moment that Williams stepped out from behind the scenes to be an active participant in his work, on display along with the art.

On Thursday night, then, should we watch Williams or try to ignore him?

“There’s no way to escape me, I’m in front of the image,” he says. “People have documented the work on video, and it’s kind of wild how different people see it. Someone will be focused on the sculpture. But then somebody else handed me photos of the work that were of me, and not the projection. Ideally, you would take into account all aspects of the performance.”

In conversation about his art, Williams is careful with his words, leaving huge gaps between clauses as he plots the ends of sentences. In writing about him, magazines like ArtForum and Modern Painters have been verbose, but often come down to a cataloguing of the found objects that pop up in the work, or the scratchy drones that come out of the battered and repurposed vinyl. (Brion Gysin and the dreamachine is a good touchstone for comparison.) It’s no good asking what things mean when the performances are improvised, and the direction of an evening could come down to the length of an extension cord, he says.

“It’s almost getting too much for me to handle,” he admits.

Williams graduated CalArts in 1999 with a Masters, and found himself linked, however tangentially, to the Los Angeles art scene, posited as it was as a rough, street-wise alternative to the New York Gallery scene. Williams says of those later years in school that “I didn’t know what I was pushing against,” and that his ideas of color came from painting on top of plastic. He seems befuddled by its origins.

“Colors start to be interesting. When it starts to feed into the sculpture, physically, it starts to manifest itself. I learned a lot about color working with paint and with plastic found objects. I am trying to work out a meeting ground between all these things.”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Contemporary Arts Forum, Paseo Nuevo Mall (Upstairs)
Cost: Free
Information: (805) 966-5373 or

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