It was during that same spring, Vega said, that Williams received a telegram notifying him of having received a $100 prize for a group of one-act plays—“not a groundbreaking prize,” Vega continued, “but his first prize and not an insignificant amount of money for Williams at the time.” That first break set him on course towards theatrical success. (He would receive his first Pulitzer Prize, for Streetcar, less than a decade later.) But he would continue to paint, on and off, for the rest of his life.
Though it’s not known how many paintings Williams produced, another cache of them
is housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, alongside many of his archives and papers. That collection includes portraits of Jim Parrott, as well as (undated) portraits of his longtime lovers Frank Merlo and Pancho Rodriguez.
In one painting, Williams depicts the dark-haired Merlo against a soft green background, tenderly holding and gazing at a plant leaf. An image of Rodriguez, who is thought to have informed Williams’s characterization of the brutish Stanley in Streetcar, shows him head-on, with a half-smile and stars (or scars?) etched into his face. Among Williams’s paintings that are known to be from the 1970s—and which make up much of the Wolkowsky collection—are a portrait of the actor Michael York, who played the role of Felice in Williams’s Out Cry; and a painting entitled Citizen of World III (1970s), which shows a seated man whose body has been turned into a target. It is thought to be a representation of the persecution that Williams faced as a gay man in the American South. In a similarly melancholic vein, Le Solitaire (1976) shows a lone figure wandering out into the emptiness of a jet-black night, barely penetrated by stars and moon.