Kent Thomas Williams aims to capture human consciousness on canvas in his latest exhibit. While that may seem immeasurable to many, the artist, architect and original cofounder of the Fisch Haus Studios has been focused on illustrating the varied dimensions of collective thought for years. For the first time in nearly a decade, he will unveil a body of new work on Friday that will be on display throughout the weekend at the Wichita Center for the Arts. It’s an exhibit that will bend the mind and challenge assumptions.
“This is a work that in part brings up time travel, atonement, vision, reconciliation, the evolution of us as individuals and also collectively as a culture,” said Williams, 48. “Sometimes artists are dealing with the visual realm, but one of our jobs and opportunities is to help people undo the visual prejudice that develops in life. We can trick ourselves to kind of unlearn and learn bigger.”
A consulting artist by profession, large-scale visions are intrinsic to Williams’ art. He’s most recently been identified through his public projects for municipal and engineering clients and has crafted works like the pedestrian bridge connecting Sim Park and McLean Blvd. in Wichita and also the Water Treatment Facility expansion in Salina.
Since 1999, he has also been expanding a drawing called “The Visual Record of a Noisy Planet.” It’s a massive work that opens a window into the vastness of landscapes that are within the human mind and also formed collectively as a people. The drawing has been displayed as a whole once and many times in segments at several local galleries. It currently measures 850 inches by 44 inches.
This new exhibit expands on it. “Cusp: Arrival of the Qoolieros, Into and Through the Noisy Planet” takes a closer look at the original work, which will be wrapped around three walls of the gallery, by exploring its supernatural realms. These realms are inhabited by spirit beings called Qoolieros, which appear from portals in the drawing to communicate lessons from the past to the future. While they appear harsh at first, their callous nature fades into something softer upon closer examination. They’re both meditative and intense to look at.
“Qoolieros possess attributes that exist in a lot of cultures, like Kachinas in Native American culture,” Williams explained. “They’re like an entity that exists in conjunction with humans. They’re like a costume that a human wears and when a human wears them, the deity that is within every human is activated and shares time and space with the deity that is within the Qoolieros.”
One of the lessons coded within the works is commentary on the salient issue of genocide. Williams expounds, though, to explore a more ethereal, full-scale look at the nature of the ideology behind mass-elimination.
“The piece is partially an argument against genocide. It’s a large topic to explore and I think it’s one that is continually relevant,” he said. “It’s not just genocide of species; it’s genocide of abilities and human capabilities and tendencies. We possess a whole lot of abilities genetically that we either show or fail to exercise when we let culture get too specific, when we let culture dictate that there’s a norm. This is a bit of an endeavor of reinvigorating a bit of that.”
Williams’ drawings are multidimensional, with a lot to take in while examining even a small part. He said that people who really get into his work typically become transfixed, often coming back to the gallery after a few hours or stopping by the next day to take in more.
“You can find a lot in it as it is, even without this new chapter,” Williams said of his work. “It all really comes back to us getting past some of these self-imposed barriers that we as a culture put up.”