Rhythm in Relief:  The Art of LaVon Williams

Opening During First Saturday Art Crawl Downtown August 1, 6PM-9PM

Continues through September 10, 2015


The Arts Company proudly introduces Kentucky-based folk artist LaVon Williams to the visual art scene in Nashville. In a special exhibition presented in collaboration with the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University, Rhythm in Relief:  The Art of LaVon Williams opens during First Saturday Art Crawl Downtown on August 1, 6PM-9PM, and continues during regular gallery hours, 11:00AM-5:00PM, Tuesday through Saturday, through September 10, at 215 5th Avenue of the Arts in downtown Nashville.  

Introducing LaVon Williams to Nashville

Curated by The Arts Company’s Anne Brown and Kentucky Folk Art Center’s Matt Collinsworth.  Williams’ work stems from a younger generation of folk artists whose art is increasingly accepted by fine art collectors as true art, not just assigned to a secondary category.  While entirely self-taught, his art does not exist within a self-imposed, self-contained cultural vacuum.  As most folk artists, he began by carving the family and cultural traditions that he knew well in relief sculpture.  By making art from his own experiences, carving images of his family and community—from church services to rollicking juke joints and rent parties —he has carved the culture that he knows into the broader American culture.  His sculptures often depict musical artists and dancers, from blues to jazz to sacred music, all an integral part of the American experience. His sculptures of iconic mid-century American cars connect all Americans with the car culture with which we are all familiar.

LaVon William was a Kentucky Wildcat basketball star in college, known widely by Kentucky fans as part of the legendary team that won the 1978 National Championship.  After college, he played professionally overseas before returning to Lexington where he works at a local middle school as a teacher’s aide, a mentor, and a coach. Somewhere in all of that activity, as he matured, he was driven, compelled to produce art.  It became an obsession.  Still today, after years of making art, he works in his studio nights and weekends.  His work came to the attention of the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University, where in 2009 they curated and presented a major exhibition of some 60 works gleaned from private collections of his work, accompanied by an exhibition catalog showcasing his work over a 25-year period.  Their catalog noted that Williams’ work has “a culturally-specific vocabulary” that is both edgy and austere.  The Arts Company hopes to expand the reach of Williams’ work by presenting him in a gallery exhibit, with emphasis on the importance of music, from jazz to blues to sacred, with sculpture from small to very large. 


LaVon Williams begins with a rough line drawing on paper. Each carving starts out as a flat, rectangular panel, an inch or more thick, made by laminating several boards together, edge-to-edge. The general layout is then transferred to the surface in pencil, before the carving begins. LaVon’s uncle, Luke Wright, carved with a knife. His older brother, Dave, used both knife and chisels. The artist carves exclusively with mallet and chisels, working from larger to finer chisels as a piece evolves. 
The carving is performed rhythmically; this rhythm for Williams is derived from the musical sounds of his Florida childhood, from the work songs sung by orange pickers, the Saturday night juke joints, and the Sunday morning churches.  The form evolves from the initial drawing as the envisioned image is reconciled with the wood in shallow relief. Many of his works incorporate negative space, holes where all the wood has been carved away when that fits the composition.  Once the actual carving is completed, he applies stains or paints with a brush or a rag, though some works are left unpainted.

About the Artist

LaVon Williams, a Florida native, born in 1958, was the youngest of five and the son of a teacher and a nurse. Following his parents' divorce, his mother moved the family to Denver in 1968, where he finished his schooling in 1976 and was a high school All-American basketball star. That fall he came to Lexington where he attended the University of Kentucky on an athletic scholarship, playing on the UK basketball team that won the NCAA championship in 1978.  In 1980 he graduated from UK with a degree in sociology, and left to play pro ball in Italy and Japan before returning to the US. In the mid 1980s he returned to Lexington and has lived there ever since. Married with two daughters, he works for Fayette County Schools.