Joseph Ivan Williams was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1923, where he received his early education. He was granted a Cambridge Junior School Certificate in 1940 and a Cambridge Senior School Certificate in 1941. He later studied painting at the Camberwell School of Art in London (1946-48), but subsequently turned to archaeology, gaining a Master’s degree from the University of Guyana in 1979.
He held several teaching and lecturing positions in England and Africa, including the School of Fine Art in London; the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London; the School of Fine Art in Khartoum, Sudan; the University of Ife in Nigeria; Makerere University, Uganda and the University of Lagos. From 1967-74 Williams pursued research in Native American tribal art of Guyana, especially petroglyphs. Since 1974 he was the Director of Art and Archaeology with the Department of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture in Guyana. He died in 1998.
Denis Williams is the author of two novels: Other Leopards (1963) and The Third Temptation (1968). He has also produced several works on West Indian and African art and anthropology: Image and Idea in the Arts of Guyana (1970); Icon and Image: A Study of Sacred and Secular Forms of African Classical Art (1974); Contemporary Art in Guyana (1976); Guyana, Colonial Art to Revolutionary Art, 1966-1976; Ancient Guyana (1985); Pages in Guyanese Prehistory (1995); and Prehistoric Guiana (2003). He contributed numerous essays on art to several books and journals. Indeed, he was probably better known as an artist than as a novelist. Williams also edited several journals: Odu (University of Ife Journal of African studies); Lagos Notes and Records; and Archaeology and Anthropology (Journal of the Walter Roth Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Georgetown).
In addition to numerous prizes for his paintings, Williams was awarded The Golden Arrow of Achievement Award from the Government of Guyana in 1973. He has received several grants to subsidise his research in art and archaeology, including research grants from the University of Ife; the International African Institute, London; and the Smithsonian Institution.