Inspiration: Kit Williams


Discovering Kit Williams came just at the right time. I came across him a few years ago when I first read about his book Masquerade, but it was only recently that I delved a little deeper into his work, bought his other book ‘The Bee on the Comb’ (also known as ‘the book without a name’ or ‘the bee book’) and his book ‘Out of One Eye’ which is full of his paintings. I challenge you not to fall in love with his work and be inspired too.

Kit Williams and the golden hare from Masquerade.
Kit Williams and the golden hare from Masquerade.

It’ll be a lot easier for you to click the links above and read the story for yourself, but in short, in the 1970s, Kit was challenged by publisher Tom Maschler who had discovered his paintings, to create a book and  “do something no one has ever done before”.  Not wanting to make a book that people would flick through and never look at again, Kit decided to make a puzzle book (even though he says he wasn’t even a fan of puzzles himself) as a way to make people really look at an image. He made a golden hare necklace, put it in a ceramic pot and buried it in a hidden spot. The book held the answer to the location of the golden hare, and an international search took place. How exciting?! The chap in the photo above claimed to have solved the riddle, but sadly he hadn’t, but you can read all about that side of the story somewhere else. After Masquerade Kit hid away and carried on with his work and then made ‘the bee book’ – the reader was challenged to solve the riddles in the book to discover the book’s real title (‘The Bee on the Comb’).

Kit seems to have an underground following, and it’s surprising that he isn’t more of a household name today, but I think that’s one of the many things that makes him so special. From what I gather it sounds like he hasn’t had many major shows (out of choice) and chooses to show his work by invitation only to a select few that collect his work. I won’t go into a full blown story about him as I’ll only get the facts wrong, and it will be easier if you watch this BBC Four hour-long documentary about him ‘The Man Behind the Masquerade’ which you can find here on Youtube (unfortunately it’s broken into 6 parts) which is so good I watched it twice back-to-back because I’m obsessive like that.  I have to admit I choked up a little at the end of the documentary when he has an exhibition of his work and reveals the Masquerade golden hare necklace and the man that solved the riddle has a tear in his eye seeing it again for the first time in all those years…please watch it! I’ve just talked myself into watching it again now…whoops!

What has inspired me, is not only his technical skill but the fact he can seemingly turn his hand to anything. He’ll make everything himself – from the costumes he wants his models to wear, to functioning objects that inform his work, and how his paintings go beyond the canvas AND the canvases themselves aren’t uniform squares or rectangles they’ll be any shape he desires. It makes me want to take up marquetry but I’m so impatient I want to be brilliant at it right away! What a skill to have. I suppose this is what 45 years of honing your skills looks like.

Here are a few pieces which I think are simply brilliant:

Triptych, 1976

“Fascinated by things going round and round in a never-ending dance, the triptych was my attempt to achieve the same result without using mechanical motion”. This piece was designed to remain closed, with the  flautist seen leaving the left of the picture, and appearing again on the right.

Hunters Moon
Hunters Moon

Look at that! Look how the bow pops out of the frame, and the perspective is amazing, not to mention the colour.

Swing, 1974
Swing, 1974

Pivoted at the top, ‘Swing’ does exactly that with just a small push. On the reverse, Kit has used his marquetry skills once again to create the girl’s silhouette. If you watch the documentary I mentioned, you’ll see that this particular piece has been bought by a Turner Prize winning artist (whose name escapes me, I’m not sure what that says) but I couldn’t help but chuckle that in the documentary, he is discussing this piece he collected of Kit’s, while behind him he has a whole team working on his own paintings for him…

Without posting a whole stream of images, you can look them up yourself. Paintings worked on spheres, paintings that spin, boxes full of objects…it’s all just so amazing. I guess you really could call him a Renaissance man, or a genius, or both.

Oh, to be a model for one of his paintings or to be lucky enough to own one! I certainly makes me wish I had the technical skills he has, but perhaps it’s time to learn. Anyone a dab hand at marquetry and in need of an apprentice?

Maybe you have an understanding now of why I was so fed up of trying to keep up with the craft world. No matter how lovely the work is you’re making, it just doesn’t compete with this. I don’t think I ever could, but I’d love to try, and now is the time to try new things and develop new skills. It’s time to be more inspired and make better pieces. Pieces that fascinate and amuse people, not throwaway objects that involve no skill.

Another excellent fact? Kit Williams was born in Kent just like me! The Garden of England has produced a good bunch: Kit Williams, The Rolling Stones, Kate Bush… not all us Southerners are bad.

I hope you’ll now delve deeper into the world of Kit Williams. Enjoy!

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