From professional basketball to acclaimed carver, LaVon Van Williams, Jr.’s artistic path was wrought with an incessant urge driving him back to his first love, carving. Williams’ bas-relief carvings are a culmination of familial influence stretching back generations with roots in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Growing up in an artistic household filled with writers, carvers, and illustrators set to the roaring sounds of his father’s extensive jazz record collection supplied an energy that thrust Williams on his creative path.
The family’s move to Denver changed Williams’ life. In Florida he had the outdoors and the opportunity to run, play, make skateboards and build box cars. Denver added to that, basketball courts. Playing on the neighborhood courts prepared him to played basketball at Wyatt Elementary. He graduated, to Cole Jr. High playing and winning with the Eagles. Every step on the courts of Wyatt and Cole took him to Manual High School’s Thunderbolts. There he grew into a CHAMPIONSHIP winning basketball player. Manual took State in 1976, under Coach Ed Calloway, with Principal, Mr. James Ward at the helm. Williams was recruited by University of Kentucky where he played with the Wildcats from 1976-1980. Williams helped UK win the NCAA championship under the leadership of Coach Joe B. Hall. Williams played professional basketball internationally.
After a series of careers in the financial sector, Williams decided to dive head first into studying art. He signed up for art school in California. At art school Williams was faced with a professor insisting black artist have no future in the art world. Such derogatory statement was fuel to leave art school. Williams return home and turn his back on the established art paradigm; as it did him. He returned to Kentucky, picked up his chisel and mallet and his artistic story began again. The artistry he displayed on the basketball courts is now captured in his carvings and paintings.
Matt Collinsworth and Adrian Swain wrote, “Williams’ carvings are energetic with the physical motion of a jazz club paired with a warm emotive verve deeply rooted in love. The amount of detailed passion that is conveyed on wood with a mallet and chisel is extraordinary. Scene of a drummer wailing, a woman belting out a song, or two lovers lips locked in the midst of an April shower call the viewer to experience Williams’ harmonious joy.”
LaVon Van Williams, Jr.’s work has been featured at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, the Hickory Museum of Art, New York’s Outsider Art Fair and for his seminal solo 30-year retrospective at the Kentucky Folk Art Center.
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