Kent Williams’s Expressive Nudes Comment on Life and Death

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Willem de Kooning once said: “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” It seems that contemporary painter Kent Williams would agree. For “Bones with Flesh,” his third solo show at Santa Fe’s EVOKE Contemporary, the artist presents an array of new and recent paintings, each one centered upon the nude

Williams’s approach is grounded in drawing, a process he has described as “uniquely taxing, but wonderfully exhausting when things go well.” Refined draftsmanship underlies his lush, expressive brushstrokes and imbues his male and female nudes—which include favored models, friends, and the artist himself—with a sense of naturalism, dimensionality, and aliveness. The works in this particular show are also grounded in his studies of and interest in the human skeleton he has housed in his studio for years. It appears, whole and in parts, as a motif in a number of these works.

In keeping with the style he has developed over his decades as a painter, Williams couples abstraction with naturalism in these compositions. Such a combination lends his mid- to large-scale paintings a dreamlike otherworldliness and removes his nude figures from any fixed time or place. In an oil-on-clayboard painting titled Darcy With Bones (2015), for example, a nude woman stands at the center of a composition whose background is composed of vigorously painted patches of greens, pinks, black, and touches of off-white. Some of these pigments pick up the tones of her flesh. The woman’s left arm is bent behind her back, while her right arm is outstretched towards viewers. In her right hand, she holds a drooping bouquet of bones, loosely bound by thin red and green strings, which snake up her arm like veins. The bones appear again in the artist’s Osseous Matter series (2015), this time draped like a scarf or a necklace around the neck and torso of a petite female model, or integrated into a delicate headdress of branches, leaves, and more colored strings. Against the hale flesh of these nudes, the bones may be read as a memento mori—reminding us of mortality and death even in the prime of life.


Karen Kedmey


Kent Williams: Bones with Flesh” is on view at EVOKE Contemporary, Santa Fe, Sept. 25 – Oct. 28, 2015.


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