Award: Artist Research & Development Grant
Discipline: Visual Arts
Project Collaborator(s):
City/Town: Flagstaff
Year: 2018
Artist Website:

A painting is a marker of time; an expression of memory. So painting over it is an expression of loss, change, absorption. In order to do my project justice I needed to paint over paintings I like and dislike, small ones and large ones, as memories good and bad are obscured and disappear indiscriminately.

With his Research & Development Grant, William Ambrose will complete a six-year, three stage painting series focused on the “intimate trauma of Alzheimer’s disease.” Stage Three explores the effects of Alzheimer’s through a metaphor of plant life, the disease represented as a thing that grows in the mind, irreversibly absorbing cognitive functions, branching out slowly and steadily over time.

The first stage of the project comprises paintings of plants of all sizes, shapes, colors. The second stage is performative: Ambrose acts as the disease, culling specific paintings he has produced during his time in Arizona—representative of specific memories, friends, and loved ones—and painting over them, completely covering the original works with newly painted plants—an imitation of the way that Alzheimer’s eclipses memories of previous life. In the third and final stage of the project, Ambrose will produce paintings of his grandparents’ home. As both are now in memory care units, their home has fallen into disrepair. The paintings produced in stage three will document the transformation of the home as it becomes hidden under a tangle of plant life, wild bushes, and weeds.

Firs by William Ambrose

“Indicative of a lighter, almost gloopy direction reminiscent of early cartoons, ‘Firs’ shows an airy movement-based counterpoint to heavier, darker work to come. In this and similar work the eye should bounce along the shapes of the subtly abstracted, simplified tree branches as they seem to sway in the sun. However, any actual daylight is already being crowded out from the composition.”

Jungle by William Ambrose

“This piece is indicative of darker, more intricate work in terms of color, depth and plant life. Any sense of daylight or horizon will be less and less visible as the series goes on.”

William Ambrose is an artist whose practice covers ideas of repetition and identity, memory and personal history. He has shown in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Flagstaff and is collected internationally. He obtained his Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College as well as additional study at the College of Queen Mary: University of London. A founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art Flagstaff, Ambrose has lived and worked in Flagstaff, Arizona since 2010.