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For a self-described hermit, Jim Williams acknowledges he may have made a big mistake with his upcoming art exhibit. It will offer a glimpse inside his masterwork in progress, otherwise known as his home.
In "Jim Williams: The Beginning of Now," the retired architect and retiring artist will offer art lovers a view inside his Salt Lake City Avenues home, circa 1879. A friend describes the residence as "a cross between a gallery and an amusement park."
"For a hermit, the worst thing that you can do is turn your house into a spectacle," Williams says.
The show, which opens June 10, will kick off the release of a book about his home, art and life which for Williams is pretty much one and the same.
Curiously, however, the exhibit won't be held on location at his tiny Avenues house. Instead, parts of Williams' home installations will be reproduced in an empty office space at downtown's Westgate Lofts.
"The show is really about … me," Williams, 71, explains. "I'm a bit eccentric and I filled my house with artifacts."
His artifacts include hundreds, maybe thousands, of self-portraits on walls, on T-shirts and even in an installation that evokes the myth of Narcissus.
Since the early 1980s, Williams has been exploring many concepts of self portraiture. The mild-mannered artist, for instance, wears a different T-shirt every day displaying a self-portrait.
"All my friends are really sick of it," says the bearded, bespectacled artist, next to whom Woody Allen is an imposing figure. On a recent day, Williams wears one sea-blue sock and one coral-pink sock with his sandals and, of course, today's T-shirt of himself. "Anyone who isn't seeing the humor of this is missing the point."
Other than Williams' art works, the house's 900-square-foot interior is mostly the house's original plaster and adobe hidden under layers of wallpaper, that he calls "my late Pompeii period."
Artist Cara Despain, who is curating the exhibit, has been entranced by Williams' house since she first saw it two years ago. "It was something very different from anything I had seen here," she says. "When you walk through the house, you go back in time. It's like a flip book."
Besides seeing Williams' appearance changing in layers of self-portraits on the walls and T-shirts, Despain traces the artistic influences of his work over the years.
"It's a scavenger hunt sort of thing," she says. "Even the T-shirts are a history of Jim's house and his life."
For example, people who have visited or worked on the house often turn up on a T-shirt, which later might find its way into the background of a later T-shirt. "If you intersect with the house in any way, you wind up on a T-shirt," she says.
Despain encouraged Williams to share this interior world, his home, with a larger audience. "Unless you came to the house, you couldn't see his work. I've been spending so much time here, I want other people to see it."
She considers the show Williams' grand gesture by sharing his artwork with the public.
But Williams is apprehensive that the show will focus too much attention on his home.
"I'm a very private person," he says. "I don't want people knocking on my door to see my house. If I had thought ahead, I probably wouldn't have done it."
The art exhibit "Jim Williams: The Beginning of Now" runs June 10-17 at Westgate Lofts, 328 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
Also • An artist's reception will be open to the public Friday, June 10, 6-9 p.m.