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Kent Williams, second draft

Post #10511052 • September 13, 2007, 8:06 PM

Illustration has a tradition of practitioners who think on the scale of fine-art painting. When I first went to the Brandywine Museum in Pennsylvania, the size of N.C. Wyeth's work surprised me. To produce an image suitable for a six-inch tipped-in book illustration, one need not work four feet high, but Wyeth clearly thought of what he was doing as serious art on some level.

We need a category or a label for this, because it represents a significant tendency of art making with its own mores and aspirations. Nobody in this category claims to be making the best art in history, but they respect their craft, whatever that means to them, often moreso than their colleagues in the Art Magazines Take Me Seriously context. Juxtapoz represents their interests better than Artforum. Totems of alternative culture, the bohemian life that used to characterize, however falsely, creators of art destined for the museums, pop up frequently in their work, although pierced endomorphs have replaced underskirted, zaftig prostitutes as the erotic ideal. Monsters appear frequently as well. Its practitioners, like Wyeth, sometimes find the high art world pathetic and intolerable. (I sometimes find the high art world pathetic and intolerable.) They revel in their love of comics, science fiction, street art, and sex. Galleries have started to specialize in this category of work, including Merry Karnowsky, which currently has an excellent show by Kent Williams on display.

Williams draws beautifully. Among the realists in this category, such as Mark Ryden, Williams posesses a remarkable flair for line, derived from Klimt and Schiele, and can frequently give the latter a run for his money. The taut rawness in his drawings does not always survive into the paintings. They admittedly would hold up more authoritatively if they did. Their painterly dash makes up for this to a great degree, and this show made me realize how starved I feel for painterly dash in contemporary work. I dove in and gobbled. That there was something there to chew on speaks highly of these pieces, regardless of what category they belong in.

Illustrations here.

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