Clasped together in an embrace, the closeness of the two women in Consoling Friends II, a charcoal drawing by Evelyn Williams creates a unified visual form expressing the strong bonds of love and friendship. The women’s clothing, drapery, hair and elongated figures, are resonant of figures found in early Renaissance paintings and carvings. The figures have a strong sense of three-dimensional form, influenced by Williams’ interest in making sculptural reliefs in the 1970s.
Who are these women and how are they linked? Who is consoling whom? The woman at the right with long straight hair closely resembles photographs of the artist at the time, but her identity is left ambiguous. As so often in Williams’s work, identities remain a mystery. Williams was drawn to the ambiguity of human relationships, commenting that she preferred her art to question, ‘... not to be one thing or another’.
Friendship, intimacy and particularly a sense of consolation between people, is vividly expressed in this work. Williams created it in 1977, three years after the death of her first husband, the artist Michael Fussell (1927–1974). Consolation was a recurring theme of her paintings, prints and relief sculptures at the time. Although she and Fussell had divorced, and she had remarried, they remained in touch. She later commented how her exploration of consolation was greatly influenced by an innate need to console Fussell in his final days. As she said in a 2007 BBC interview, ‘We all have problems and we all try to help each other.’
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