In the Spotlight

The Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful World of Whales

The Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful World of Whales

Artist Chip Williamson's fantastical whale paintings are swimming with whimsy, mischief, and joy. View his work at your Library until Friday, June 14.

Post Author

Hannah Kiger

Artist Chip Williamson‘s paintings are a delight. His work—imbued with magical mischief, intricate detail, and surprising humor—invites viewers to re-imagine everyday, mundane experiences. Williamson beckons us into a realm where discarded objects, such as forgotten thrift store paintings, become scenes of wacky and wonder-filled visual narratives.

Williamson is captivated by the idea of extraordinary worlds breaking into the ordinary. This enchantment is expressed through, in Williamson’s words, his “surrealist storytelling.” In many of his creations, these stories are characterized by enchanted whales and other sea creatures bursting through otherworldly portals into classical scenes.

Your Library is hosting an exhibit of Williamson’s paintings—”The Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful World of Whales”—in our Galleria until Friday, June 14. The display is joyful, whimsical, and thought-provoking; you can’t help but take a second look, and when you do, you’re pulled in.

On Friday, June 14 from 4-6 p.m., we’ll host a reception for Williamson’s show in the Galleria. People can drop by to meet Williamson and learn more about the artist behind these wacky, weird, and wonderful paintings.

We got to speak with Williamson recently about his artistic journey and what continues to inspire him.

How did your artistic journey begin?

I’ve always had a knack for creativity, thanks in large part to my grandmother’s encouragement to draw and paint. This early support led me to showcase my artwork at the county fair, where winning a few ribbons confirmed my talent.

While I embraced the artist identity in my youth, I didn’t see it as a career path. Instead, I set my sights on architecture during high school, seeing it as a way to channel my creative abilities into a stable profession. Though my purely artistic pursuits were relegated to occasional gifts and cards, I found fulfillment in my architectural endeavors.

Then came the COVID pandemic. With the world on pause, my wife, daughter, and I turned to art to occupy our time. As we delved deeper into artistic expression, I found myself drawn to the idea of curating exhibits. Starting with a display at a local community arts center and a few in our own backyard, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception. Some might say the rest is history.

My daughter and I now operate Casablanca Gallery, a cozy gallery and art studio in Dayton, Ohio. I’ve participated in numerous group shows, exhibited my work regionally, and continue to pursue opportunities for solo exhibitions in institutional settings.

How has your artistic style and subject matter evolved?

Like many artists, I draw inspiration from a diverse array of sources. While I’m self-taught, I’ve cultivated my skills by immersing myself in art museums and exploring online galleries.

What’s unexpectedly emerged as a central theme in my work is humor. I find myself incorporating it into my pieces, adding an element of lightness and playfulness.

Furthermore, I’m deeply fascinated by visual storytelling. I enjoy weaving intricate narratives into my art, often incorporating layers of hidden messages and unexpected plot twists. For me, the essence of my best work lies in its ability to captivate the viewer, offering an engaging experience filled with intricate details and unexpected subjects. I strive to create pieces that hold the viewer’s attention, inviting them to explore and discover new elements with each passing moment.

My artistic journey has been shaped by a myriad of influences, including the works of Wayne White, Jonathon Queen, Paul Rienzo, and the adventurous spirit of Jacques Cousteau. Each of these figures has left an indelible mark on my creative vision, inspiring me to explore new artistic territories and push the boundaries of my craft.

Yet, perhaps the most profound impact on my artistry comes from my wife and daughter. Their unwavering support and thought-provoking conversations propel me deeper into the artistic universe I’m constructing. Their encouragement serves as a constant source of motivation, urging me to continually evolve and refine my artistic expression. In many ways, they are my greatest collaborators, shaping the trajectory of my artistic journey in ways I never could have imagined.

The Library exhibit features your fantastical whale paintings. How would you describe what’s happening in these extraordinary scenes?

The whale paintings are my most recognized works. I’m not sure there is a specific style associated with this work. Some say surrealism, others cartooning and others comedic upcycling. If forced to create a name, it might be surrealistic storytelling.

This imaginative realm where whales take center stage, mingling with alien planets, assuming royal roles, and embarking on epic adventures, emerged quite organically. Initially, my whale paintings were merely whimsical one-offs aimed at eliciting a chuckle. But as they gained recognition, I was prompted to delve deeper into their backstory. This led to the creation of an entire whale universe—a fantastical realm brimming with intricate narratives, rich characters, and boundless imagination.

In what ways does your artistic imagination affect how you view and live in the world?

My artistic endeavors not only shape the stories I tell but also influence how I navigate and experience the world. One way I make sense of the world around me is by telling myself stories—stories about the reasons behind things, how they work, and the endless possibilities they hold. For example, with my upcycle paintings, what better way to have fun than to playfully color on “grandma’s” old wall art above her couch? It’s mischievous, it’s fun, and it adds a touch of whimsy to everyday life.

The imaginative process doesn’t exist in isolation from my own life. On the contrary, it intertwines with it, enriching my perspective and altering how I perceive the world around me. Just as I construct elaborate tales within my art, I find myself seeing the world through a lens of possibility and wonder. It’s as if my artistic imagination has imbued my reality with a sense of magic, prompting me to seek out adventure and creativity in every corner of life.

If you’re an artist interested in displaying your work at the Library, click here to submit an application.

Stay up-to-date on what’s displayed in our Galleria by following Johnson City Public Library on Facebook and Instagram!