Overview

Spotlight on Kent Williams

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Kent Williams is mostly known as a figurative painter. He employs a bold style that shows us our faults and frailties on one hand and on the other our aspirations and hopes. A lot of his later paintings employ 'flash bulb lighting'. A very direct light gives the artist the opportunity to bring every aspect to the front. According to Williams, shadows hide the body, shadows lie. By flooding the subject with light, you need to be aware of every aspect of the whole picture while painting.

 

Kent Williams has been exhibiting in the Los Angeles area for over 10 years and is part of the National Portrait Gallery. His comics work includes work for Epic Illustrated, Moonshadow, Blood: A Tale, Havok/Wolverine and Batman: Black and White. He has done illustration and advertising work for Playboy magazine, Readers Digest, Converse and Penthouse magazine.

 

This is a transcript of the Spotlight panel at SDCC 2007. Young and famous, Kent Williams took to the stage like a time-displaced beatnik. His hair wild and unpredictable, his bony face accentuated with a stubby chin. His interviewer was comics artist and colorist Jose Villarubia. A kind and gentle man who speaks with a whispery voice. Like Grandfather Time, he delivers an encouraging tap on the shoulder and a small punch in the back, urging you on to ever explore your art. He speaks with a trace of Hemingway. The panel traced the origins of Kent Williams in a chronological manner, accompanied by a slideshow of his work.

 

While 'Moonshadow' was the first painted comics series back in 1985, it was actually the success of Frank Miller's and Bill Sienckiewicz' Elektra: Assassin in 1986 that paved the way for painted comics. The experimental work of Sienckiewicz was no influence on the style of Kent Williams, more interested in paving his own way through his eccentric focus on the human body.

 

The success of Blood: A Tale led to his collaboration with John J. Muth on two major Marvel characters. Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown' came about because Marvel Comics wanted another painterly comic. John J. Muth suggested to Kent Williams to do a joint project. Williams' adversity for characters in costumes led to the use of Wolverine who is seen in street clothes throughout most of the comic. A stylistic choice that was acceptable for the character at that moment in time.

 

His next major comics work, besides various pinups and cover work for Marvel Comics, was Tell Me Dark (1992), written by John Ney Rieber. A Vertigo-styled graphic novel, done under Karen Berger, before Vertigo was formed as an imprint under the DC banner. The GN was completed before the rise of the computer and as a result, everything was done by hand. Villarubia and Kent Williams went into some of the specifics of handwork, arguing that effects done by hand - that are not fractal based like in Photoshop - can actually be nicer. The work gets an organic feel due to anomalies that turn up unexpectedly. The work surprises you more and that can sometimes be more rewarding than having everything mapped out in advance.

 

The collaboration on Vertigo's Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold in 1997 with writer Alisa Kwitney, went off into an unexpected direction. Originally contracted to do only a few intermission scenes, the writer kept expanding on the intermissions until they were almost as much work as a complete graphic novel in itself.

 

His latest comics work to date is The Fountain. Working from the original screenplay by Darren Aronofsky, Kent Williams described The Fountain as a book that stands independently of the film. The graphic novel is the Kent Williams version of the original story that was in Darren Aronofsky's head. A work process that is compared to the story of the Signal to Noise GN by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean wherein a dying writer imagines a last film he will never make.

 

Though there are many differences between his real life work and a reproduction thereof, Williams still likes seeing his work in print though many nuances tend to get lost in the printing. Another problem is the reproduction size of comics. He prefers his sequential work to be published in an oversized or European format. A point that he explicitly wants stipulated in his contracts in the future.

 

Kent Williams comes across as a shy and sensitive artist. An extraordinary painter who keeps exploring his visual style and symbolism in his paintings and sequential work. I strongly recommend seeking out his work for anyone who wants his comics to contain a rich visual language, providing the reader with an intense and penetrating vision of humanity. For a complete and comprehensive overview of his work and career, please visit www.kentwilliams.com.

 

Kent Williams Amalgam: Paintings & Drawings, 1992-2007 was released in July 2007 from Allen Spiegel Fine Arts and is available in finer bookstores.
The Fountain TPB was published in October 2006 through Vertigo/DC Comics and is available in comic shops throughout the country.

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