Kent Williams

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I don’t give a lot of attention to the work of any living artists. (In truth, not much to any dead ones either, not lately.) One I’ve tried to keep peripherally in view for a few years, though, is painter Kent Williams — who’s made that effort (small as it is) a bit easier, since this past fall, by starting up a blog. It’s not a great blog, really, but in the last month or so it’s made something of a leap, as he’s started to post a little on paintings in process.

He’s not giving step-by-step analysis, but he is giving you just enough to get a feel for the paintings’ construction. I appreciate this. Williams has had for some time a decent gallery & news site, replete with images, and it remains the thing for getting to know him online. But the blog is worth pointing out too, now.

Williams contributed artwork to a single 10-page story in the well known serial graphic fantasy this fellow began writing two decades ago — not named here because I’m not so interested in hits on this topic. That’s how I came to know of him, a little over ten years ago when I borrowed the re-packaged series and first read it all. The short piece in question was published first in 1992, when Williams was pretty young. But the artwork for that little 10-pager is a striking standout in all of the series. In several respects, I think, it’s certainly the best thing about the whole series, a really virtuosic turn in a mostly uneven, if not mostly uninteresting, long run of interconnected pieces. Williams’ is the most structurally cohesive and straightforward, and at the same time the most vivid and immediate, of all those stories as visual narratives, the overwhelming lack of elaboration of the drawings notwithstanding.

It seems to me that that’s due in a big way to some exceptional commitment he must have made somewhere along the line, consciously or unconsciously, to the human figure, not just for dramatic or compositional possibilities but for the human figure itself — or rather perhaps, even, for personality itself, as the root idea of all ideas under figural depiction. Human form isn’t reduced here to a device for selling the page or moving a plot line, in other words. Human form isn’t reduced at all; it’s as substantial as it can be in line drawings; it assumes almost all the weight of the story — in fact brings substance into the story that it wouldn’t otherwise have. To give that importance to figure is by no means necessary to graphic storytelling. But that it can be the most powerful kind of current in graphic storytelling is fully evident in this case.

The same commitment is the spark of truth in Williams’ paintings 18 or so years later, it seems to me. Judging from his website, it frequently finds rich expression in them. That isn’t so surprising, when you consider how firmly it was established already in his youth. And maybe it’s also not surprising, in this light, that he’s primarily a painter, rather than an illustrator or artist for graphic novels, though there’s undoubtedly a great variety of work available to him.