Art fills gap for builder Bob

Bob Williams has come through a few storms over the years to find tranquillity in making art.

More than 20 years since the collapse of his Interstruct construction empire and selling his stake in the Perth Wildcats, the avid ocean-racer is now setting sail for an exhibition at a prestigious gallery in New York City.

The titan of WA's building boom in the 1970s and 80s, whose crowning glory was the Harry Seidler-designed QV1 tower, said art was the latest outlet for his restless urge to build and create things.

"I cannot sit still for five minutes," Mr Williams said in his North Fremantle office surrounded by artworks, handmade model planes and scale replicas of his maxi yachts Parmelia and Freight Train.

"I cannot stop wanting to create something," he said. "It is like a disease."

Nine of Mr Williams' artworks will feature alongside work by four other artists in the Out From Down Under & Beyond exhibition at the Agora Gallery in Manhattan from May 16.

Mr Williams, 73 this month, draws freeform abstract images on paper and then scans them into a computer, where his imagination runs riot even further in the rendering of digital prints.

Listening to jazz, with its improvised freedom and endless possibilities of discovery, inspired him to find his artistic voice, he said.

"Digital art allows me the space, freedom and unlimited options that I need to let my emotions flood out of me, as uninhibitedly as I dare," he said.

Swirling through his work are tendrils of inspiration from the Australian outback, ocean voyages and the many exotic locales he has lived in. Mr Williams dabbled with oil painting when he took a TAFE course in the early 1990s but never felt comfortable with it.

"I always felt I was trying to imitate someone else," he said.

Things became more serious about three years ago when he discovered the possibilities of computer art.

After selling about 20 works to local collectors, he was prompted to look further afield by Perth art dealer Arthur Spartalis, who had helped him assemble an art collection in the 1980s.

While art is a passion, Mr Williams remains as excited about the Wildcats, the NBL franchise he rescued from collapse in 1986 when he became its first private owner for a sum of $200,000.

With Mr Williams as chairman, the Wildcats went from cellar-dwellers to the grand final within a year, only to be pipped by Brisbane for the championship.

Yesterday, they won their sixth national title.

A keen sailor, Mr Williams sailed in the Sydney to Hobart race five times on Freight Train and was skipper of Parmelia when disaster struck the 1979 Fastnet Race. Fifteen sailors died and Parmelia was among only 80 yachts out of 300 to finish.

"That's the worst storm in the history of yacht racing and we went through the guts of it," Mr Williams said.

He also organised the first Antarctica Cup Ocean Race in 2008 and has been working for almost a decade on his dream of staging a race around Australia called the Great Australia Ocean Race.

For the past 20 years or so, Mr Williams has travelled the world working as a building project manager in Indonesia, Vietnam, New Zealand and the Middle East.

If that wasn't enough, he has written a novel under a nom de plume about shenanigans in the building industry and has written a colourful autobiography of his many ups and downs.

An adventurous spirit also pervades his art, but Mr Williams hesitates to call himself an artist just yet.

"I just enjoy it so much I can't imagine I will ever stop doing it," he said.

"And the thrill is that other people seem to like it."

The West Australian

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