About the Artwork
A Brief History of William Kent’s Life Creating Art
William Kent began creating sculptures in 1947, and continued until two days before his death in 2012 at age 93. Self-taught as an artist, he experimented with driftwood, plaster, and cast stone, until in 1950 when he turned to carving marble and limestone in-the-round, and slate bas-reliefs. His subjects at that time were usually drawn from nature, and most all these early works were sold over the years.
In 1956, he began carving wood, and among other subjects, created a series of twenty-one huge sea creatures (squid, octopods, cuttlefish), often combining stone and wood within one sculpture. In 1964, the Castellane Gallery in NYC exhibited this series, and eleven of them remain now in his studio.
After 1957, William Kent’s use of stone was mainly for small slate bas-reliefs, and in 1963, after finding a store of discarded blackboards (Italian black slate), he began to carve bas-reliefs solely for the purpose of making prints. Over the next 13 years he carved 118 large master slates (some over six feet tall), and 126 smaller hand-size slates he could use with more variety in his mono-prints. He considered the slates as “…works of art in themselves.” From them he made by hand, working alone and without the use of a printing press, about 2,500 prints.
After completing his last four master slates in 1976, these on Bi-Centennial subjects, he ceased carving slate and making prints, except for a brief two-month return a few years before his death when he made prints from several of the smaller slates he could still manage from his wheelchair.
In 1977, he began carving large wood sculptures again. His first piece was the monumental “D.Duck #1, as American Eagle, on Trash Can, on Snow Tires” carved from a piece of solid mahogany. It took over a year to carve, and he said, “I thought I would never finish it.” This one and five others that followed in his D. Duck series are the only sculptures in-the-round that carry a political message similar to his prints. After 1982, the subjects for his monumental sculptures were often tools, food, or odd toys and curiosities he picked up at flea markets, and he would tell viewers not to think about the object itself, but its shape and form.
Seeing one of his small models, (a bent screw-driver, an apple, a safety-pin, a boot,) blown-up in size 10, 50, or 100 times, did make one later view everyday objects in a different light. He told friends he knew his large works were unsalable, but he would not change his creative need to accommodate popular acceptance.
William Kent never married, and obsessively concentrated on creating art, taking only part-time jobs until 1970, when sales of his art began to dry up. He then worked full time in a box factory in nearby Portland, Connecticut, at first cleaning the machines, but in time became the box designer. He worked there for 14 years until he retired at age 65, and Social Security could then supplement sales of his art for the rest of his life. During those 14 years, he would rise before dawn to work in his studio before heading to the job he hated, and over that period produced 40 of the large master slates, 126 smaller ones, hundreds and hundreds of prints, and 12 large wood sculptures.
In the 1960’s both the sculptures and prints were exhibited widely, even as far as the Sundsvall Museum in Sweden for a one-man show. He received excellent reviews from prominent art critics, and his work is owned by museums and important art collectors. Although he continued having exhibitions at the Castellane Gallery until 1965, and at other galleries and museum group shows through the 1960’s, he gradually withdrew from the art scene, and living alone, worked daily in his studio barn in rural Durham, Connecticut for the rest of his life. Due to poor circulation, his right leg was amputated in 2006, but it hardly slowed him, and he finished 16 sculptures between his operation and his death in August of 2012.
Mr. Kent’s work from 1947 is not recorded, but from 1948 on, including the slates for printmaking, he carved 850 sculptures. On his death 250 sculptures and about 2,000 prints remained in his studio.
by Joan Rich Baer, Research Director, The William Kent Charitable Foundation
For CDs of all William Kent’s prints and sculptures, please contact [email protected].
SLATE PRINTS FROM 1963-1976
William Kent often used subjects from textbooks, and newspaper articles that he then adapted in a creative way by first carving the image into a slate blackboard. Working alone and without a press, he then inked the stone, covered it with rice paper or fabric, hand rolled a small brayer over the material, and on the larger prints applied heat for the ink to better adhere. Kent considered all his prints as mono-prints since they were made by hand, but he signed most of them the traditional way. Those on fabric, because he varied the color of the inks and design of the material, were usually signed as mono-prints, and those on rice paper as editions. Edition numbers are considered “intended” editions, because often fewer, or more, were actually printed.
For those on rice paper, once placed on the inked stone, he would wet the paper, and gently press the fibers into the grooves of his carving. After using the brayer, he allowed the print to dry in place, and when lifted it was embossed, as can still be seen today over 50 years later.
Other examples of the prints shown here are available, often in a wide variety of textures, background patterns, and colors. There may be only two or three from the image on a specific Master Slate, or perhaps dozens. Contact [email protected] to see a wider selection.
The prints fall into seven overlapping groups:
- Political Satires (presidents and politicians).
- Riot Series (America in the 1970’s).
- Erotica (referred to by the artist as “Satirerotic”)
- Gravestone Series.
- Prints with elaborate borders. Sandblasting, as Kent described in Eichenberg’s book, was used partially, or fully on a few Master Slates in this series.
- Four prints after Beardsley’s SALOME.
- Four Bi-Centennial prints 1976.
The Insect, Bird, Sports, Flying Cocks, and some of the Riot prints were carved on many separate slates of different sizes. They could then be moved around and combined in different positions for each separate print.
Contact the Foundation
P.O. Box 212
Durham, CT 06422
269 Howd Road
Durham, CT 06422
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