Tona Williams, 2018
Tona Williams, 2018 – photo by Carey Mullett
I’m a multidisciplinary artist based in Madison, Wisconsin

My projects include painting, photography, video production, metalworking and sculpture. My earlier training included both formal and informal art education along with an academic focus (Sociology Ph.D., specializing in ethnography and education). My artistic and visual interests eventually led to a freelance career in commercial art, where I have specialized in documentary filmmaking and other forms of video production, website design and photography, and most recently fine art.

My multimedia art revolves around
・The captivating beauty of human form and its shifting identities and emotions
・Humans and nature merging in whimsical and surreal manifestations
・The moody textures of human built structures dissolving back into nature

Favorite Techniques

Sentience - original digital photographic art
“Sentience” by Tona Williams

Photography Becoming Original Digital Art. Some days this takes the form of rambling treks through the countryside to document the shapes and textures of raw nature and intriguing old buildings. Other sessions focus on studio portraiture, on-location shoots or photographing dance performances. Back in the studio I use these images as the raw material for digitally painting what frequently become fantastical multilayered compositions. I either print these in their full-color form or create a monochrome version to be hand printed.

Hand Printing Processes. I often continue customizing an image through a method such as the historic cyanotype process. This involves printing a transparent negative of the digital image and hand coating paper with a solution of iron salts that, when dry, becomes sensitive to ultraviolet light. Once exposed, the design embeds into the paper fibers. Untreated prints are a deep blue, and when toned with various substances such as tannic acid, coffee or a bleaching solution, they can take on sepia, blacks or other colors. After mounting the image to a hard surface such as a birch wood panel, I may add layers of watercolor, oil paints or other pigments, and then always a cold wax finish to bring out luminance and add a protective layer.

Art by Tona Williams
Closeup of a cyanotype with oil pigment piece from the Dispositions series

Freeform Drawings And Paintings. I create some images through sketches of models and drawing from imagination. My oil and cold wax paintings emerged through these processes. Building on multiple iterations, they begin with a base of more concrete, figurative forms and become more abstract as pigments, textures, wax medium and organic materials are embedded and layered. Many of my embedded textures hold special meaning, such as moss from the trees at my parents’ house that I loved throughout my childhood.

Metalwork and Sculpture. I love combining rough and soft elements in my jewelry, from sturdy chains with hand hammered and soldered links, vintage repurposed leather clasps and fringe, bicycle hardware and tubing, to delicately formed and cast pendants or fine silver sculpted from metal clay and fired in a jewelry kiln.

Ongoing Series of Paintings and Monoprints

Art by Tona Williams
Cyanotype with watercolor from the To Dance series

The Mother series plays with personifications of Mother Nature and our often competing desires to merge with her but also to break away and channel her to fit our imagination.

The Dispositions series displays a range of evocative, emotional and sometimes boudoir-style figurative images.

The Manifold Self series is my exploration of the performance of personae; how we craft ourselves, how others see us, how our stories are contextual and shifting, and the interesting tensions and contradictions that all this creates.

The To Dance series – I’m enthralled with the emotive physicality of dance and circus, and love to photograph and transform it into other visual experiments. The Madison Circus Space benefit series specifically supports this wonderful community.

The Trace Visions series explores my fascination with weathered, abandoned buildings and the human intentions that shaped them but are constantly succumbing to the marks of nature. They have me imagining old stories and personalities that struggle for relevance even as they relinquish control and allow themselves to be changed. The textures that emerge on the cusp of birth/death/transformation are to me the most beautiful.

The Above And Below series is based on photographs that I took of the smooth, clear ice of Lake Monona, Wisconsin in January 2018 on a 5°F day. As I trekked out towards the center of the lake, peering through the layers below, I became enthralled with how much the natural forms looked like otherworldly landscapes and seascapes.