One glimpse into Jake Williams’ apartment and your senses come to life.
Dominating one wall is a mind-boggling piece of art that features a young and glowering Cassius Clay, poised over a fallen Sonny Liston with the phrase “Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee,” worked beautifully into the backdrop. You can feel the power emanating from Clay’s gloves and sense the hopelessness of his victim.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles takes center stage on another wall. He is almost a blur, mimicking what must be the view most NFL defenders experience as he streaks past them for a long gain.
A trio of prints featuring rock and blues legends John Lennon, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix hang in his studio and massive action portrait of former Lee’s Summit West High School star Monte Harrison sits on an easel, waiting for the finishing touches.
The one thing each of these pieces of art has in common is its creator – the third-year Grain Valley High School art teacher and assistant football coach – who brings passion to everything he touches, and paints.
Williams, who graduated with an art degree from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, has been teaching art at Grain Valley for three years. Last week, he pulled off a remarkable coup by hosting an hour-and-a-half Skype session with legendary artist Stephen Holland (stephenhollandstudios.com).
That brush with fame has provided even more inspiration and stoked the passion and love of art that has been a driving force in Williams’ life since he was a youngster.
“I guess you could say I’ve come a long way since I was drawing pictures of Batman & Robin and Spiderman when I was a little kid,” chuckled Williams, who has sold several original pieces and lithographs (jakewilliamsart.com). I’ve always loved art and sports and have been so fortunate to have combined them into my teaching and coaching career.
“And when I’m away from school, I can create pieces of art that I enjoy – and that I hope other people enjoy, too. Setting up the Skype session with Stephen Holland last week was really the highlight of my teaching career. When I was able to contact him through his agent, and he agreed to talk to my students, I was just amazed. We’ve talked a few times since and I hope one day to go out to California and meet him – he actually invited me to his studio.
“The piece I did on Muhammad Ali (who was known as Cassius Clay at the time he defeated Liston) was really inspired by Stephen’s work. He always incorporates great backgrounds into his work, and I tried to do that with the ‘Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee,’ motto in the background.”
That painting will always hold a special place in Williams’ personal gallery, because he worked on it some 20 hours – then went back and worked on it some more, fine tuning some areas that “just weren’t right.”
“A lot of trial and error in that piece – which is one of my earliest pieces,” Williams explained. “I can look back at my earlier works and see a lot of room for improvement. I think the more I paint, the better I get. And I love painting and making pieces of art that folks like.”
He is currently working on two pieces for Harrison, the former Lee’s Summit West standout who is now a minor league prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
While he was recovering from a knee injury, Williams met former Kansas City Chiefs player Alphonso Hoge (2005-2006) and wound up doing a portrait that now hangs in the former defensive tackle’s home.
“That was pretty cool,” Williams said. “Meeting Alphonso led to a few more contacts and I hope to expand my opportunities to do some work for pro athletes.”
One his most recent pieces is a smiling portrait of Kansas City Royals World Series MVP Salvador Perez, which was a collaborative effort with Luke Hammontree, a former Grain Valley art student.
“That was a lot of fun,” Williams said. “I’d never done a collaborative piece of art and we both enjoyed it. Luke graduated last year and he has so much talent. He came back last week for the Skype session with Stephen and he really enjoyed it. You could tell he was inspired. I was certainly inspired and so were my students.”
Inspiration, talent and passion are equal parts of Williams’ love of art and life.
“How many people can say they get up and go to work every day and love what they do?” Williams asked. “I’m a lucky guy.”