Jerry Williams

Jerry WilliamsJerry Williams was a large man with a heart as big to match. Through our time knowing him we witnessed that heart getting broken by unrequited love, but also witnessed a man who found the joy in life through creating art. Jerry told us many a time that he really was an artist, although he never really had to say it; it was evident in his amazing work.

Jerry was a sensitive guy who spoke with almost a Southern accent, and was always a pleasure to be around. He lived with his mother in Rio Linda, along with a pet monkey that he loved dearly. Jerry would frequently sell his art at sidewalk sales in front of his house. We often wonder if the lucky buyers of his work really knew just how lucky they were, getting a small masterpiece for probably just enough for a carton of cigarettes.

He attended Short Center North until around 1999, when after the death of his mother he was moved to a care facility in Woodland. Five of us went down to visit him on a Saturday once, bringing him much needed art supplies; he passed away a short time after. His funeral was at the little Pentecostal Church off of Del Paso Blvd. Three of us went, and we couldn’t help but notice the thrift store price tag as still on the preacher’s suit jacket.

Jerry worked primarily with black India ink and a quill outlining his figures and then later boldly coloring them in with watercolor or colored pencil. Watching Jerry work was a treat; his big hands with frankfurter fingers delicately grasping the small plastic quill which he would dip into the inkwell, never spilling its contents. The results are almost dizzying in their outcome, and at times appear to be moving due to the complexity and compactness of his work.

Jerry’s fanciful creations are rich with linear constructions – there is no space left unadorned. Hundreds of flowers of all sizes, big and small figures, trees, mountains, buildings and the occasional animal are fit together like a big puzzle. Jerry was inventive in his various working styles: In his large thematic watercolors he divided his paper into horizontal layers that would later be accentuated with contrasting colors. Each layer would then have its own subject, as exampled in “Mountain Fishing”: water and fish at the bottom, next fishing boats and fisherman, and then green vegetation, following by black mountains (each with a different colored flower), topped with rows of vegetation and flowers. The results are as structured and rich as a Viennese layer cake. Different ingredients (I.e. “Cowboys and Indians” huge sunflowers, pointy-eared dogs) result in different visual confections, rendered in Jerry’s quirky pen and ink technique. Some of these artworks are so dense in imagery that they are shown just in details in his accompanying portfolio. In other works Jerry creates men in pork pie hats with jughead ears and candy-corn teeth, arms outstretched, wearing brightly colored button-up shirts, flanked by a brightly colored checkered background. Jerry’s solid coloring technique and use of eye-popping contrasting colors make each piece a visual explosion.

Jerry dreamt up thematic artworks that were well-thought out in detail: “The Wild West”, and other similar works have checkered horse-drawn stagecoaches, cowboys in 10-gallon hats, and psychedelic teepees; “At The Playground” detail images and “Kids at the Playground” show every type of activity a kid would love – kite flying, jumping rope, basketball, jacks, swings, riding bicycles, scooters and riding something that resembles a lawnmower. Jerry’s joyful spirit is exemplified in the details of these works.

Of all of his images his ‘War” and ‘Soldiers In Battle” artworks are probably the most dynamic: Candy-colored planes drop bombs on houses engulfing them in flames, soldiers with popguns stand at the ready and casualties of war, complete with gumdrop red blood globules, are stretched out on fields of pink and yellow. They are a fine marriage of color, line, and idea. These works go beyond mere embellishment and reveal the true artist in Jerry.

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