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Ice Queen

Ice Queen
signed, signed again with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'ROBIN F WILLIAMS RFW "Ice Queen" 2019' (on the reverse)
oil and acrylic on canvas
72 x 50 in. (182.8 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 2019.
P.P.O.W, New York
Various Small Fires, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Los Angeles, Various Small Fires, Robin F. Williams: With Pleasure, September-October 2019.

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“Williams has a painterly gift for contrasts as she shifts between pasty and airbrushed surfaces, auras and hard-edge geometry, and [Giorgio] de Chirico weirdness and [Wayne] Thiebaud seduction.” - The New Yorker

Robin F. Williams’s Ice Queen is both simple yet subtle, and otherworldly yet tactile. The young Brooklyn-based artist has pioneered a powerful signature style that allows for previously unconsidered discourses on painting and gender in contemporary times. Williams’s larger-than-life paintings often live in an interspace between worlds and emotions. As writer Ted Loos observes, “In Ice Queen, a nude woman on her back, legs in the air, has a massive smile plastered on her face. Is she grinning and bearing it? Or laughing at our looking at her? Williams is aware of the tension in those possible readings” (T. Loos, “Brooklyn-Based Artist Robin F. Williams Paints Women Who Command Your Attention,” W Magazine, November 13, 2019, Thus, the Ice Queen presents herself to our gaze even as she meets it, challenges it with her grin and balletic pose. Whether Ice Queen is sincere or ironic we can never know, but what is sure is that it ushers in a new and bold vision of the body.

Williams has already garnered critical attention for paintings like Ice Queen. Critic Roberta Smith writes, “The paintings are extravagantly in-your-face regarding execution, style, image and social thrust… Ms. Williams’s surfaces are so intriguing that you want to study how everything is painted—bodies or parts of them, ersatz woodland greenery, a hoarding of stones” (R. Smith, “What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week,” The New York Times, November 1, 2017, The beautiful, icy blue-green landscape of the present work evokes the mythical snowscape of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis’s description of the eponymous witch’s house sounds like Ice Queen, “There were stone satyrs, and stone wolves, and bears and foxes and cat-a-mountains of stone. There were lovely stone shapes that looked like women but who were really the spirits of trees” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, New York, 2001, p. 154). Williams’s tree spirit could be kind or disingenuous, evil or good—binaries that often characterize mythical characters that serve as manifestations of humanity’s hope or anxiety.

“Each painting is an assemblage of dueling edges, approaching some form of realism or surrealism. The surface contradictions nod to the content: female bodies in conflict with their unsanctioned desires.” - Robin F. Williams

The artist’s technical skill and art historical knowledge are apparent in Ice Queen. The New Yorker compares her work to Pop and Surrealism, “Williams has a painterly gift for contrasts as she shifts between pasty and airbrushed surfaces, auras and hard-edge geometry, and [Giorgio] de Chirico weirdness and [Wayne] Thiebaud seduction,” (The Editors, “Robin F. Williams,” The New Yorker, August 15, 2015,

Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, and the X Museum, Beijing. Most recently, her paintings were on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami’s first major permanent collection show Fire Figure Fantasy: Selections from ICA Miami’s Collection (2022).

Among Williams’s boldest creations, Ice Queen is self-assured and daring. It has a simultaneously cheeky and serious punk ethos, like the paintings of Eric Fischl and David Salle. Yet Ice Queen is not exactly Neo-Expressionist, but rather something else altogether that Williams has carefully built throughout her career. Rare is the artist who creates unmistakable imagery, and Williams continues to charm with her fearless women and untamable landscapes. Ice Queen transports us to a faraway land, offering us a fairy tale for our contemporary moment. For Williams, painting is the medium of fantasy.

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