In VAC exhibit, artist blends figural, realism, and abstract

Colleen Karlovich

Staff Writer

Looking for something new? Looking for something fun to do while staying on campus? Looking for a way to expand your horizons? I invite you to see the amazing exhibition of Kent Williams’s art, “Native Bone and Far to Home.” The exhibit, on display through December 16, is a must-see because of his amazing draftsmanship, depiction of the human figure, and incredible control and use of paint and color.

Williams lives in Los Angeles where he teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and is a member of the mentor faculty at the Laguna College of Art and Design. However, his home state is right here in North Carolina where he was born in New Bern on the Atlantic coast. In addition to his teachings he has had solo exhibitions in locations such as New York City, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.

There are many things to see in Williams’ art. For example, one can tell that he is an exceptional draftsman in the way that he captures the anatomy of the body. Lia Newman, the curator of the exhibit, sees Kent “taking a narrative that you would see in a graphic novel or comic, a narrative that would take place in multiple frames […] and he’s merging all of them together.” She attributes her interpretation to Williams’ background as an illustrator for companies such as DC and Marvel. Regardless, one can see the merging of sequences in a story through all the colorful components in Kent’s art. As Shaw Smith, chair of the art department, describes it, “He uses that figure in contest with the environment. I love that sort of shaping of the body and then deconstruction of the body in the environment, and that’s the type of battle, almost confrontational between the body and space.”

The idea of bringing Williams to Davidson was to add a new element to an already diverse series of shows. The goal of the gallery is to provide variety, Newman said. “Primarily, the gallery is a teaching tool for the college — not just students in the Art department but across campus,” he said. “We are also interested in building a bigger audience in the community.”

While balancing an assortment of artists, it is also important to look for what an artist will bring from a technical standpoint with his work. Describing Williams’ use of his draftsmanship, Shaw said, “There’s a shoulder in one of the pieces that is just stunning; not that it’s verisimilitude, it just has this melodic feel to it with the curving of the lines [… ]It’s not just there as a kind of pedestrian technique; he let’s you move in and out with the figure.”

The content of Williams’ work varies, but there is considerable focus on the figure and how the figure is placed in space. When asked about what students should expect to see when they walk into the exhibition, Shaw said, “I think when they come, they can see a figure that is struggling — struggling for identity, for a place in the world, struggling to find out their positioning in some ways.” This idea of struggling for one’s own identity is particularly relevant to many college-aged adults as we leave our homes, communities, and safety net and try to explore and define further our own values and character.

There was plenty of student involvement in the exhibition, ranging from unpacking the art from lenders, museums, and galleries to hanging the art. Students also had the opportunity to paint the walls, make labels, and do other tasks associated with the physical installation of the gallery. When Williams arrived, students shared meals with him and had the opportunity to hear him talk about his work during a public gallery talk. Williams also visited several classes and conducted studio visits with some of the senior Studio Art majors.

This exhibit is a must-see. “This exhibition represents a pivotal moment, I think, where he’s pushing his work in another direction,” Newman said. “This show might be the crossover point between something realistic and more traditional in some ways and then this new abstraction he is testing.” Williams’ work from 2007-present will be on display in the VAC until December 16. See you there!

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