1928 - 1996
Ben Williams lived in Montgomery, Alabama. He dropped out of school in the sixth grade. He moved to Cincinnati where he shined shoes. When his father‘s health failed he returned to Alabama and married in 1947. He had six children. He and his wife separated and he moved to Washington, and then back to Alabama. In 1985 he had an accident and broke his leg. That left him disabled and with time to devote to his paintings.
Williams said, "I always liked drawing the ladies.” Mainly his inspiration came from magazines (his favorite was Playboy Magazine). He worked on a lap board, sometimes drawing in the near darkness.
His rudimentary collages of cut out figures drawn on brown paper bags are glued to a stark white surfaces of posterboard. The detailed drawings show the considerable time that he took with each piece, which were sketched in pencil and then traced and retraced with a ball point pen until the pressure made deep furrows in the paper.
In the early 1990's, Anton Haardt met artist Ben Williams after a Montgomery collector brought a few of Mr. Williams paintings to her gallery.
Williams was a fascinating character who lived in a housing project in Montgomery, Alabama. His work was divided between the religious themed pieces and pornographic drawings that he would make in a strange ritual. His greatest aspiration was to be able to draw nude cartoons inspired by Playboy Magazine. Unfortunately, he destroyed nearly all of his work. After working all night, he would tear up his pieces to hide them from the eyes of his girlfriend.
Anton became friends with him and was able to witness William's strange painting ritual. Her friend Granger Carr started to visit him and he would bring over some beer or wine, and sit and talk with Williams while he worked. The quirky thing is that Williams would dress up as a woman each night, and get especially drunk and draw erotic fantasies of women in various compromising positions. Often after drawing these, he would draw images of Jesus or the crucifix, apparently as a sort of repentance for his carnal thoughts and creations. Anton was able to convince Ben to save drawings for her, before he would destroy his night’s work. She amassed dozens of pieces this way, and was able to sell some pieces to collectors. As far as his work, because of his habit of destroying pieces, there is only a small number of his works available for sale, probably less than 40. Anton still has a few religious images, including a great weeping Jesus, with Ben Williams’ scrawled handwriting in faded graphite over the surface with sayings like: ”I cry now, I won’t cry no more, I am what I am. Give or take away…Don’t worry.”
The gallery also has several of his risqué erotic images.
Anton Haardt, through selling Ben Williams drawings to other collectors like Myron Shure and to Intuit's Bob Roth, helped him gain greater exposure and acclaim, especially in Chicago, where his work was shown alongside Bill Traylor in a previous exhibit.