Critical Reflections

Kent Williams: New Work

Date September 30, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


EVOKE Contemporary
130 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe

Can Kent Williams draw and paint? Oh yes indeedy, though when he gets stuck anatomically or spatially he hides the problematic areas in a whirling storm of blech-mosphere. Or maybe he just bumps up against his own boredom with his everybody-else-has-already-done-this-better style of figurative painting and thinks, “I’ll just scumble around for a while. Maybe somebody who doesn’t know better will mistake it for expressivity.”

And what about his color sense? Let’s just say, he makes the painter’s term “mud” (over-mixed color that has lost all semblance of life) seem like an insult to earth. Oh, I’m being mean again, because I’m a bad, bad, man, but somebody has to shock Williams out of his dead-end artistic efforts. With 2,196,000 artists in the United States, according to the latest census data, any and all exhibition space needs to go to the most worthy. If ya ask me, Williams needs more than a little bump of tough-love.

You’ve seen it all through the yellowed windows of the under-grad studio complex; the sense that mixed down lifeless colors are “serious painting” because some eighteenth century academic losers mistook incense soot for Michelangelo’s palette; the competent figure-drawing that privileges cover-up over follow-through; the influences that remain so uninflected and half-stepped that they read like derivative mimicry rather than homage. Schiele and Kokoschka have been herein abused.

The sad thing about Williams’ work is that his abundance of technical talent exposes a lack of vision. He has won serious awards for his graphic novels, including Italy’s coveted “Yellow Kid,” but based on the evidence here maybe he ought to stick to graphic novels. It appears that he gets lazy when it comes to finishing figures, and the pieces end up being all truncated body parts and false climax. Devon’s Back is a prime example of this painterly myopia, though in this one case he does paint the entire figure, presumably out of eroto-attachment. The hip-hop pun of the title, à la Slim Shady, is insufficient premise for elevating a girly picture into the realm of the sublime. The brown-beige miasma that surrounds her body only indicates the artist’s inability to integrate his objectified object with her surroundings, and the violet over-painting of two of the studio walls is so strident against the overall blah-tones as to be cloying.

Sure it’s hard to paint the human back, which Williams does well, but success in that endeavor is what gets you an A at Pratt before you go on to bigger things. The challenge is to develop your own ideas and to give your work meaning. Check out Odd Nerdrum, or better, Steven Assael—another Pratt alumnus, if you want contemporary figurators who meet the criteria. I hope Kent Williams take this review as a challenge to actually challenge himself.