‘I Was Terrified’: British Pop Star Robbie Williams on Stepping Out of His Comfort Zone to Show His Paintings to the World

The singer and newly minted visual artist says he and creative partner Ed Godrich have "a thousand ideas" for future projects.

Robbie Williams (left) and Ed Godrich posing in front of their painting Sharon at their debut exhibition 'Black and White Paintings' at Sotheby's London. Courtesy Sotheby's.

With millions in record sales, countless accolades and sold-out concerts under his belt, British pop superstar Robbie Williams might appear to be have it all. But there’s still at least one area where the “Angels” singer felt insecure, and that is being featured as a contemporary artist during London Gallery Weekend this year.

“I was terrified because, in the U.K., you are not allowed to go outside your box, and my box is definitely the pop world. So I worry about the kick in the head that I’m gonna get for straying outside of my lane,” Williams told Artnet News during the show’s invitation-only opening reception on Thursday evening. “But at the same time, I’m compelled and obsessed, so I’m going to do it.”

Together with his creative partner Ed Godrich, Williams unveiled 14 black-and-white paintings the pair worked on together at Sotheby’s New Bond Street space, just ahead of London Gallery Weekend, which kicks off in the U.K. capital today. The artistic collaborators also curated a gallery hopping route for the three-day event, featuring five galleries in central London.

Robbie Williams (left) and Ed Godrich posing in front of their painting <i>Sharon</i> at their debut exhibition 'Black and White Paintings' at Sotheby's London. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Robbie Williams (left) and Ed Godrich posing in front of their painting Sharon at their debut exhibition “Black and White Paintings” at Sotheby’s New Bond Street. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Each of the 14 works, created under the moniker Williams Godrich, is titled after a popular woman’s name from the 1980s, ranging from Janet and Donna, to Tracy and Trish. The large-scale paintings on polystyrene feature detailed figures that look like a cross between whimsical cartoon faces or secret codes written in white brushstrokes against a black background. The works, which are available through private sale at Sotheby’s, are the fruits of five years of labor, according to the artistic duo.

“Ed came out to Los Angeles, where I had a huge garage,” Williams said about how the partnership started. The pair bought “loads of paint, and tonnes and tonnes of canvas and wood” Williams added, and brought them to the garage. “We stood there with the paints, and thought, ‘Then what?’” he said. “We made mistake after mistake, until the mistakes became something that looked like a thing.”

The pair first met when Godrich, an established interior architect, designed the pop star’s home in London 10 years ago. “We creatively clicked. We developed our technique and we learned to work together,” Godrich said. The pair worked on about 10 paintings at the same time, “so Rob can be down there, and I can be there—sometimes next to each other,” he added. “The fact that this is made on polystyrene explains why we get that amazing, smoking texture.”

The pair, both born in 1974, took the development process seriously, but they wanted to keep their art “whimsical and silly,” Williams said. There’s also an element of nostalgia embedded in the black and white paintings, with subtle references to the music scene they grew up in.

“Me moving in from the pop world to do art… I put a lot into whimsy,” Williams said. “It’s what I’m about, what I wanna be, and I know the art world is a very serious world. But that’s not me, and that is not what we are. If you don’t look at it and think of the 80s cartoons, or how it would feel to walk straight into a cartoon, you kind of miss the point.”

Robbie Williams performs at the final of X Factor Italy 2019 at Mediolanum forum. Milan (Italy), December 12th, 2019

Robbie Williams performs at the finale of X Factor Italy 2019 at the Mediolanum forum. Milan.

But have the duo ever argued about artistic differences over the past five years? “Not argued…” Godrich said “I’m…” Williams intercepted: “Bossy.”

“Here’s the thing. He’s bossy in the best way, because his eye and what he wants to do, with what he’s looking at, I trust 1,000 percent,” Williams added. “If I do something good, it’s by mistake. If he does something good, it’s on purpose.”

Despite the self-depreciation, Williams has been making a name in the art world recently, both as an art collector and an artist. The pop star offered a trio of Banksy artworks from his private collection earlier this year to raise funds for his other creative projects. One work was withdrawn, but the other two paintings fetched a total of $9.5 million at Sotheby’s in March. The auction house declined to reveal the price for the Williams Godrich collaborative paintings on show now, but a work by the pair was sold at its Contemporary Curated sale in April for £40,320 ($49,116, including fees), nearly double the presale estimates.

The black and white paintings are among many art projects in the pipeline, Williams noted. But in order to take things further, the duo will need guidance “on what happens next,” he added. “We have loads of ideas, but we both have ADHD. We need a grown-up to catch the best of us and implement it for us, or we will have a thousand ideas, and none of it will get done,” Williams said.

Making art is like “having superpower,” he said. “But I just don’t want them to be these paintings on the wall, and the next day, it’s going to be over, that’s it. I want to build a hotel. I want to do the interiors. I want to put a restaurant and art in the hotel.”

What about opening his own gallery? “Maybe,” Williams considered. “It’s a good idea.”

“Black and White Paintings” runs until May 25.

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