Maddie Phinney on William Kent

William Kent, Take It Easy But Take It!, 1964, carved slate print on rice paper, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm). © William Kent Charitable Foundation / Photo: Andy Romer Photography
William Kent, Take It Easy But Take It!, 1964, carved slate print on rice paper, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm). © William Kent Charitable Foundation / Photo: Andy Romer Photography

While studying music theory at Yale under composer Paul Hindemith, William Kent became interested in sculpting, painting, and carving marble and wood. In the 1960s, he began making prints using large-scale discarded slate blackboards, which he sandblasted or carefully carved to create elegant bas-reliefs. It was also at this time that Kent developed a unique method of making monoprints using fabric. Shortly thereafter, he began exhibiting in commercial galleries and museums in New York City, and was featured in the 1966 Whitney Annual alongside Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Helen Frankenthaler.

In 1961, Kent became the first curator for the John Slade Ely House, a non-profit arts center in New Haven, Connecticut, which he opened up to artists year-round. However, Kent’s 1965 exhibition Sex and Violence, Or Erotic and Patriotic Prints created a scandal with the Ely House’s conservative trustees, and Kent was fired that same year. He retreated to a converted farmhouse in the small town of Durham, Connecticut, where he focused on printing until 1977, when he began sculpting wood exclusively.

Take It Easy But Take It! (1964) is characteristic of Kent’s slate prints on rice paper. According to William Bendig of the Hollycroft Foundation, the text and title were most likely inspired by the Woody Guthrie song “Takin’ It Easy,” and the image appears to have been taken from an Athenian kylix by Makron. A maenad carries a thyrsus, a sort of magic wand, and embraces a satyr in an aggressive and erotic exchange. Kent often took from various sources to craft his evocative images, and this particular image of ancient Greek hedonism was a favorite of the artist’s.

William Kent Biography

William Kent (b. 1919, Kansas City, MO) received his BS from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, and served in the United States Navy. He attended the Yale University School of Music, New Haven, Connecticut (1944-1947) and studied Music Theory and Composition with Paul Hindemith. The artist served as Curator of the John Slade Ely House Art Center, New Haven (1960-65) and as Founder and Secretary of Professional Artists of Connecticut (1962-1965). Kent received the Award for Artistic Excellence from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2009). Recent solo exhibitions were held at The York Square Gallery, New Haven (2000); Chase/Freedman Gallery, West Hartford, Connecticut (2003); Evergreen Woods, Branford, Connecticut (2005); Kehler Liddell Gallery, New Haven (2009); and the Museum of Sex, New York (2013). Recent group exhibitions took place at the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Michigan (2000); The Sculpture Mile, Madison, Connecticut (2001, 2005); the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor (2004); Mobile Alabama Museum (2005); Museum of Arts & Design, New York (2006); and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut (2008). Kent’s work is included in the following selected public collections: the Smithsonian Institution; Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester University; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park; the Brooklyn Museum; Princeton University Art Museum; New Britain Museum of American Art; and the Yale University Art Gallery. Prior to his death, Kent formed the William Kent Charitable Foundation. More information about his work and foundation can be found at
Maddie Phinney Biography
Maddie Phinney is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She received her MA from the University at Buffalo, New York (2014) and is currently Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Visual Studies. Her work centers on the art of identity and its critical reception, with particular attention paid to the politics of the AIDS epidemic in the US. Her writing has appeared in artcritical, V Magazine, Bomb, Nukta Art and others.