UK Art Museum exhibitions celebrate the work of Kentucky artists, musicians

LEXINGTON, KY (July 30, 2022) — The University of Kentucky Museum of Art opened two new art exhibitions today, each featuring works by prominent Kentucky artists.

Exhibitions include:

  • “The Life and Death of Charles Williams”
  • “Mortal Coil: James ‘Son of Ford’ Thomas and David Farris”

Both exhibitions will run until November 26 and are free and open to the public.

“The museum thrives on connecting powerful art and curious audiences and telling stories about how creativity works,” said Stuart Horrodner, director of the Art Museum UK. “With Charles Williams, James ‘Sin Ford’ Thomas and David Farris, we have three largely self-taught artists who transform ordinary materials (stumps, discarded plastic, clay, hair and newspaper photographs) into visions of transcendence, power and empathy. Williams was a Lexington resident whose work didn’t garner much attention during his lifetime, but his comics and anthologies were beginning to be appreciated by the art world. Thomas was a legendary blues musician whose figurative sculptures have been celebrated in recent years; and Faris is a musician from Kentucky whose drawings have never before been exhibited.’

Read more about each exhibition below.

“The Life and Death of Charles Williams”

This exhibition will be both a homecoming and a celebration of the late Charles Williams (1942-1998), a Kentucky-born artist who created paintings, sculptures and drawings inspired by the superheroes and space travel comics of his youth.

Born in Blue Diamond, Kentucky, near Hazzard, Williams learned to draw by copying comic book characters such as Superman, Dick Tracy and Captain Marvel. In the early 1960s, he enrolled at the Breckinridge Job Corps Center in Morganfield to learn practical job skills. Williams seemed to thrive in the program, where he honed his writing skills, took photographs, and even developed his first regular comic strip, titled “JC of the Job Corps,” which appeared weekly on the back page of the Breckinridge Bugle, the camp newspaper.

While working as a full-time janitor at the IBM Corporation in Lexington, Williams continued to develop his artistic practice. He created comic stories including “Amazing Spectacular Captain Soul Superstar,” a cape-wearing superhero who fights against the perpetrators of the intergalactic slave trade, and an entire miniseries called “The Cosmic Giggles,” which recounts the experiences of aliens visiting Earth and observing racism, disease, economic inequality and other problems specific to our planet.

He kept an elaborate show in the yard, painting the trees around his house and decorating them with cutouts of Mighty Mouse, Batman and others. He also made hundreds of pencil holders—sculptures of all sizes and shapes—with holes drilled to hold all manner of writing implements, mostly collected from the desk drawers of IBM employees after they went home for the day .

Williams worked voraciously until his untimely death in 1998, the result of AIDS-related complications and starvation. A few months later, an organization called Moveable Feast Lexington was founded in his memory to provide hot meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in the region.

The exhibition is curated by Philip March Jones, an artist, writer and curator based in New York. Jones is the founder of Institute 193, a nonprofit contemporary art space and publisher in Lexington. He served as the inaugural director of Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta, and in October 2020 founded MARCH, a curatorial platform and gallery in New York.

“Charles Williams’ work has always felt important to me,” Jones said. “His talent was fully realized during his lifetime, but it was never widely displayed – until now.” As far as my role is concerned, the exhibition is not so much prepared as rescued from the dustbin of history, a gracious display of what little is left.”

“The Life and Death of Charles Williams” will feature over 100 objects made by Williams from the early 1960s to 1998. It was previously presented at the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art in Georgia and at Intuit: The Center for intuitive and outsider art through Chicago. This exhibition at the Art Museum of United Kingdom is sponsored by VisitLex.

Learn more about Williams in this episode of KET’s “Kentucky Life.”

“Mortal Coil: James ‘Son of Ford’ Thomas and David Farris”

This exhibition will bring together two accomplished musicians whose unique visual art focuses on the human body and uses everyday objects in surprising ways.

James “Sin Ford” Thomas (1926-1993) grew up in Mississippi and learned to play blues guitar by listening to the radio. His work as an undertaker had a profound influence on his clay sculptures of animals, portrait busts and skulls, often decorated with teeth, hair, beads and foil. He claims to rely on dreams to inspire his songs and precisely sculpted creatures, both of which are marked by qualities of melancholy and resignation.

David Farris is a Lexington-based drummer and member of several local bands, including Italian Beaches, Candy & the Yams, and Club Dub. He maintained an active drawing practice, altering newspaper images of sporting events in ink and filling notebooks with drawings and cartoon sequences. He regularly posts short video sequences on Instagram that document his home experiments with percussion instruments. He approaches sound and visual creation with a sense of mastery and anxiety, stating, “Once I’ve played the drum enough times that it sounds good and I can use it, or if I’ve drawn enough images to use it, then it’s time to try something new.”

The combination of Thomas’s sculptures and Faris’s drawings acknowledges that artists often have a distinctive content that can be understood no matter what means of expression they use. “Mortal Coil” offers meditations on being and becoming, the hideous and the everyday. The exhibition is made possible by Linda and George Kurtz for the loan of their “Syn Ford” Thomas sculptures.

Later this summer, the Art Museum UK will open further exhibitions including Louis Zoellar Bickett: Wrapped and Waxed, Marlene McCarthy: Thicker than Water and RAUSCHENBERG: A Gift in Your Pocket: From the Collections of Friends in honor of Bradley Jeffries.

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Current Art Museum UK opening hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday and noon to 5pm on Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

The mission of the UK Art Museum, part of the UK College of Fine Arts, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of art to improve the quality of life for the people of Kentucky through the collection, display, preservation and interpretation of outstanding works by visual art from all cultures. Home to a collection of over 5,000 objects, including American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, and sculpture, the Art Museum presents both special exhibitions and exhibitions of works from its permanent collection.

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