Museum of British Art exhibits celebrate the work of Kentucky artists and musicians

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

Exhibits include:

  • “The Life and Death of Charles Williams”
  • “Mortal Coil: James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas & 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 Horodner, director of the UK Art Museum. “With Charles Williams, James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas and David Farris, we have three largely self-taught artists who transform common materials (tree stumps, discarded plastic, clay, hair and newspaper photographs) into visions of transcendence, of power and empathy. Williams was a Lexington resident whose work did not attract much attention during his lifetime, but his comics and assemblages are beginning to be appreciated by the art world. Thomas was a legendary Blues musician whose figurative sculptures have been celebrated in recent years; and Farris is a Kentucky musician whose designs have never before been exhibited.

Learn more about each exhibition below.

“The Life and Death of Charles Williams”

This exhibition will represent 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 superheroes and comic books. travel in the space of his youth.

Born in Blue Diamond, Kentucky, near Hazard, Williams learned to draw by copying comic book characters like 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 appears to have thrived on the program where he honed his writing skills, photographed 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 diary.

While working as a full-time janitor at IBM Corporation in Lexington, Williams continued to develop her artistic practice. He’s created comedic tales including “Amazing Spectacular Captain Soul Superstar,” a caped superhero battling the perpetrators of the intergalactic slave trade, and an entire miniseries titled “The Cosmic Giggles” that recounts the experiences of extraterrestrials visiting Earth and observing racism, disease, economic inequality and other issues unique to our planet.

He maintained an elaborate garden show, painting the trees around his house and embellishing 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 accommodate all sorts of writing instruments, mostly gleaned from the drawers of IBM employees’ desks after their back home for the day.

Williams worked avidly 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 and took on the task of providing hot meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in the area.

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

“Charles Williams’ work has always seemed essential to me,” Jones said. “In life, his talent has been fully realized but never shown in full extent – until now. As for my role, the exhibition is not so much curated as scavenged from the dustbin of history, a graceful presentation of the little left.

“The Life and Death of Charles Williams” will feature more than 100 objects made by Williams between the early 1960s and 1998. It has previously been shown at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in Georgia and at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, in Chicago. This exhibition at the UK Art Museum is sponsored by VisitLex.

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

“Mortal Coil: James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas & 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 “Son Ford” Thomas (1926-1993) grew up in Mississippi and learned to play blues guitar by listening to the radio. His work as a gravedigger had a profound effect on his clay sculptures of animals, busts and skulls, often adorned with teeth, hair, beads and foil. He claims to rely on the dream to inspire his songs and sculpt with precision beings, both imbued with 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 maintains an active drawing practice, altering newspaper images of sporting events in ink and filling notebooks with line drawings and animation sequences. He regularly posts short video clips on Instagram that document his domestic experiments with percussion. He approaches sound and visual creation with a sense of mastery and restlessness, stating, “Once I’ve played a drumbeat enough times that it sounds good and I can use it, or if I have drawn enough pictures to use them. , then it’s time to try something new.

The combination of Thomas’s sculptures and Farris’s drawings recognizes that artists often have signature content that can be understood regardless of the mediums they use. “Mortal Coil” offers meditations on being and becoming, the abject and the everyday. The exhibition was made possible thanks to Linda and George Kurz for the loan of their sculptures “Son Ford” Thomas.

Later this summer, the UK Art Museum will open additional exhibitions including ‘Louis Zoellar Bicket: Wrapped and Waxed’, ‘Marlene McCarty: Thicker than Water’ and ‘RAUSCHENBERG: A Gift In Your Pocket: From the Collections of Friends in Honor of Bradley Jeffries.


The UK Art Museum’s current opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. 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 in order to enhance the quality of life for the people of Kentucky by collecting, exhibiting, preserving and interpreting outstanding works of visual art from all cultures. Home to a collection of more than 5,000 objects, including American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, and sculptures, the art museum features both special exhibits and exhibitions of works from its collection permed.

Mildred D. Field