Kent Williams has built up a formidable reputation as a powerful contemporary painter. His is a bold realism with combined attributes of abstraction and neo-expressionistic sensibilities. His work is characterized by strong gestural forms combined with areas of arresting detail, rendered with rich dynamic brushwork.
Williams’ approach to his subjects is often subjective and intense. Whether through multi-figured compositional complexity and suggestive narrative, or with the straight-forward lone human form, there is often autobiographical narrative at play. Favorite models, friends, and the artist himself all play a role in the human story of his paintings.
Williams lives in Los Angeles. He has two sons, Kerig Sun and Ian Kai.
“There are precedents for such contrasting formal languages occurring within a single painting (or, as in the case of Gerhard Richter, occurring within a single oeuvre)... Larry Rivers’ proto-pop painterliness zoomed in and out of focus and scattered his subjects around the compositions they occupy. Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy, among other surrealists, blurred the line between the optically credible and the physically impossible. Gustav Klimt enveloped his sensuous, stylized figures in swaths and curtains of pattern. Victorian academicians, British and American, as diverse as John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and Frederick Lord Leighton, combined emphatically hyper-realistic passages – faces and details of clothing, for instance – with much more painterly areas surrounding them. The later mural-size paintings of J. M. W. Turner (in uncanny anticipation of photography’s liberating effect on painting) deposited heroic figures in the midst of all-but- disintegrated land- and seascapes. Williams acknowledges these influences to various degrees.
Williams is a worthy inheritor of these august forerunners, technically gifted and spiritually motivated, as they were, by the acts of painting and drawing themselves. He participates in a dynamic, polemical, historically self-conscious resuscitation of representational painting currently occurring throughout the United States, and nowhere more than in southern California, where Williams currently lives and works. Painters like Williams are clearly attached to a tradition but compelled to advance it by embracing contrary traditions – abstraction, surrealism, naturalism – and by inventing a cohesive, if deliberately unstable, whole. Unstable neither in its actual imagery nor in its painterly practice, Kent Williams’ art distinguishes itself for its fully reasoned method and its particular, often unique, characteristics. But it is unstable – thrillingly, potently unstable – in its acceptance of contradictory visual languages and its ability to orchestrate those languages into a pictorially and discursively vibrant way of painting the human condition.”
From the exhibition catalog, Kent Williams: Native Bone and Far to Home, Davidson College, 2015