Hang On

Hang On

For a professional hanger-upper, Wooster Square resident Mark Williams doesn’t seem to have many hang-ups. His demeanor is markedly relaxed, about as level as the stuff he’s carefully installed on walls for the past 17 years: paintings in galleries and hospitals, diplomas in professional offices, family photos in homes.

Even putting up Monets and Cézannes—one-of-a-kind paintings worth millions, which he installed for exhibits at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford—didn’t faze him much. “After a while, you’re just hanging rectangles, you know? You treat everything the same,” he says, and it’s fun to think there’s somebody out there who would approach little Petey’s fingerpainted masterpiece with the same respect as a Monet.

Still, he seemed to have at least a little extra fun during his gig yesterday inside The Trinity, the new Irish-bar successor to O’Tooles, set to open tomorrow after a condensed flurry of interior construction work this week. For Williams, used to working with drywall and those “rectangles,” the Trinity job upped the ante with challenging exposed-brick hanging surfaces and atypical pieces, like a beautiful ovular plaque featuring a relief of literary icon and pride of Ireland James Joyce. It also meant “secure-mounting” most objects, in order to keep the occasional rowdy or sticky-fingered patron from knocking or snagging things from the walls. And while most of his clients have predetermined ideas about where they want specific things to go, The Trinity’s owners gave him free rein to place their chosen objects where he would.

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It’s actually a pretty astute choice on their part, since they’ve got enough to think about this week, and Williams is a genuine artist in his own right, with finely honed skills and aesthetic sensibilities. A painter, printmaker, photographer and mixed-media experimenter working out of a studio in Erector Square, he’s got undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fine arts and a long CV to boot.

After eight-plus hours at Trinity, now puffing a cigar and sipping a 12-year Scotch, neat, at the window table of the Owl Shop, he estimates he’s taught nearly 50 different arts courses at colleges throughout the region, including University of New Haven, Albertus Magnus, Eastern Connecticut State and Three Rivers Community College. Not just a teacher, he actively produces and exhibits new work, with 35 pieces now showing in University of Bridgeport’s Schelfhaudt Gallery and one of his prints recently selected, along with 44 others from among 2,000+ submissions, for inclusion in the prestigious International Print Center New York’s latest juried exhibit.

Closer to home, you might have come across Williams’s work during City-Wide Open Studios last October, when he filled a room with his trademark fluorescent paintings and prints at the Goffe Street Armory, allowing visitors to flip a switch to see the works under both normal light and blacklight conditions. He also opened up his personal studio during CWOS’s “Erector Square Weekend.”

So even when he’s not on a hanging job, he’s still hanging stuff, which leaves him well-practiced when the hanging gigs do come around, mostly via word of mouth or professional referrals (especially, Williams notes, from Liz Hellwig, owner of custom framing shop Framed in Hamden). His rates are $30 an hour for residential work and $40 for business/institutional work, and he seems torn about them. On the one hand, he’s worried about charging too much, but on the other, he says clients consistently tell him he doesn’t charge enough.

So I ask him what he gets done in an hour. In a typical home environment, and depending on whether the client’s already decided where things should go, he says he ranges between six and 10 hangings every 60 minutes—or $3 to $5 per item. Which does seem like a small price to pay for getting all your art and ephemera out of hiding and beautifying your walls, which aren’t made to suffer extra holes and the like. “People will say, ‘I always hang things off-level. Nothing’s ever straight, or if I do get it straight, I put at least six holes in the wall,’” Williams says. “And a lot of people are busy. Something more important comes up,” repeatedly delaying the hanging. “So you hire me, and I do that thing that’s on your to-do list, and it’s done.”

If you’ve been leaving your art hanging, he just wants to hang your art.

Mark Williams
Art Installer | Artist

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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