Marcus Kenney streams his vision through mixed-media with Shed My SkinThe singular artwork of Marcus Kenney is as mercurial and ever-changing as the media he employs. Equally adept at disciplines including collage, sculpture, painting, photography, and installation, Kenney’s work is at once personal and transparent, inviting the audience to navigate his imagery of animals, family, and political musings. Colorful and modified taxidermied wildlife, agitprop collages, and enigmatic black and white photos are all fair game to be hot-wired in Kenney’s creative universe.
A native of rural Louisiana, Kenney received his MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1998. The now 40-year-old artist and his family have called that same town home for the past fifteen years. Yet Kenney is hardly a provincial secret. His work has been exhibited in cities such as Atlanta, New York, and Chicago, and as far afield as London, Paris, and Hong Kong. Kenney’s works have been featured in media outlets including Art in America, The New York Times, ART PAPERS, Oxford American, and New American Painter. Locals now get a chance to check out Kenney’s work at his upcoming exhibit, Shed My Skin.
The show is unique in more than one way. In the interview below, Kenney explains that the title is as much a reference to a Peter Gabriel song as it is to the state of transition and forward motion his work is heading towards next. The exhibit is also unique in that it features the return of nullspace gallery and that inventive group’s joint presentation of Kenney’s art with Florida Mining gallery.
Under the auspices of artist-gallery owner Steve Williams, FMG has presented the works of national artists such as Geoff Mitchell and Rachel Rossin, while also overseeing the highly successful community arts project The Highway Gallery. The latter is an ongoing joint venture with Clear Channel that has exposed local commuters to work by area contemporary artists on digital billboards throughout Northeast Florida.
Beginning in early 2010, the artists Mark Creegan, Kurt Polkey, and Jefree Shalev began hosting a series of highly-engaging exhibits at their nullspace gallery in downtown Jacksonville. Over the course of 16 shows, the trio presented inventive programming that leaned towards installation. Russell Maycumber, Jenny K. Hager, Tony Rodrigues, Greta Songe and collaborative experiments by Jim Draper and Morrison Pierce, as well as Patrick Moser and Loren Myhre, were a few of the local artists invited to take advantage of the gallery’s concept of an empty room to be filled as each artist saw fit i.e. a “null” space.
After a hiatus, the trio of Creegan, Polkey and Shalev has now joined forces with kindred spirit Williams, who will be hosting nullspace shows in his gallery, an act of creative unity that helped bring Kenney to this area, with all four artist-slash-curators planning to bring in future exhibits for local art lovers.
Marcus Kenney is giving an artist talk at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10 in room E-112F, located across from the art gallery, at the Kent Campus of Florida State College of Jacksonville, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd.
The opening reception for Shed My Skin is held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11 at nullspace gallery, hosted by Florida Mining Gallery, located in the Harbinger Sign building, 5300 Shad Road, Jacksonville. The show is on display through Nov. 22. The contact number for the gallery is (904) 425-2845.
For more information on Florida Mining Gallery, visit: http://floridamininggallery.com/
For more information on nullspace gallery, visit:
I spoke to Marcus Kenney at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.
I then interviewed Steve Williams, Mark Creegan, Kurt Polkey, and Jefree Shalev via e-mail on Monday, Oct. 7.
Below is the transcription of my conversation with Kenney, followed by the interviews with Williams, Creegan, Polkey, and Shalev.
Starehouse: Tell me about this upcoming exhibit, Shed My Skin. How many pieces do you estimate will be presented?
Marcus Kenney: Well, I’m going to do an installation of four with these three-dimensional sculptures of monkeys. And then I’ll have probably 10 paintings, maybe four taxidermy wall sculptures, and a handful of black and white photographs. I’d say total about 20 pieces.
S: So the installation section with the monkeys, is that going to be a separate entity altogether?
M.K.: Well, no it will just kind of be one piece; it will still be part of the exhibit.
S: I’m only asking about the installation idea since nullspace gallery was kind of known for presenting artists in these kinds of installation environments; quite successfully I might add.
M.K.: This really going to really be kind of a straight up exhibit with an installation in one area.
S: Right. The title is Shed My Skin. Is there a kind of a narrative or collective tone to this exhibit?
M.K.: A bit; I actually got the idea from a Peter Gabriel song.
S: Yeah (…) what is that song?
M.K.: Is it “Big Time”?
S: Yeah, “Big Time.” (Note: it turns out we were both mistaken; the actual Gabriel song that features the lyric “shed my skin” is from his 1986 hit, “Sledgehammer.”)
M.K.: I was listening to that and thought, man that is a great title for this show. So, you know those three words can bring up all kinds of connotations, but for me I think it’s a bit of a transition (…) and this show is going to (…) I mean it’s not really a retrospective in that sense but it is a bit of a survey of the kind of work that I’ve been doing, a combination of works that I’ve been doing over the past several years. And I feel like my work is beginning to change a little, so I feel like this might be a swan song of sorts with this time period in my life. I just turned 40 so that’s kind of what I was thinking.
S: Well, congratulations on making it to 40. I was thrilled to hit 41.
S: I want to get to the work but I’m always intrigued about the origins and roots of visual artists. Are you cool with talking about some of this stuff?
S I know that you were born and raised in Louisiana in Franklin Parrish in a town called Cooter Point. I’m just curious if you in some ways align yourself with being a particularly “southern artist” – or are you indifferent to that kind of labeling?
M.K.: I’d prefer not to be labeled that way. But, you know, I can’t hide from it. Some people want to be labeled as a southern artist. I mean, I’m not opposed to it, but I would like to think that my work could speak more to American culture than just southern culture. I would hope so. This lady was interested in my work and the curator put me in touch with her through an e-mail and the curator wrote “Marcus is one of the best artists in the Southeast.” The curator was out of New York and it kind of just pissed me off.
S: Yeah, right (…) kind of constrictive.
M.K.: Yeah. I mean, it was a compliment to be one of the best in the Southeast and not to be taken lightly (…) and this person is a respected individual but at the same time she put that “excluding New York” tag on it.
S: Or even the rest of the planet, for that matter.
M.K.: Yeah, I feel like people like to do this.
S: Sure. Well, I’ll try not to do it! (laughs)
M.K.: (laughs) Well, if that’s your decision, do it.
S: No, I’ll be mindful of that. I kind of scoured some of your previous press and interviews, but I never really found anything – and maybe from my lack of investigation – but I never really discovered any information about the years between your growing up in rural Louisiana and then you pursuing visual art in college. I am imagining you were creating art at a young age but I might be wrong. (…) Were you drawing and that kind of stuff, kind of, out of the womb?
M.K.: No. I mean I was drawing. I was a compulsive drawer as a child (…) it was kind of my deal. I was even selling drawings to my classmates for nickels and quarters.
S: It was lucrative at a young age.
M.K.: Yeah, it seems like it was from the beginning. But then I just, I don’t know (…) I went to such a small school that we didn’t have art as an option, or music (…) it was very basic. I went to the same building K-12, graduated with 22 kids and most of them I started kindergarten with. We didn’t have a lot of options but I was always an artist. I just didn’t know exactly what that meant. Because I wasn’t exposed to it (…) and when I went to college I was really exposed to art. I wasn’t a late bloomer but I really didn’t seriously start making working until my mid-twenties.
S: Is that right?
S: That’s fascinating just considering the skill level and body of work you’ve created.
M.K.: I’ve been hitting it pretty hard since then (laughs).
S: Yeah (…) Total Surrender.
S: But can you recall when you were a kid seeing specific pieces of art that kind of resonated within you; even if it was just in a book or magazine?
M.K.: My grandma was an old Cajun lady, and she had this original oil painting and she had cut herself out of a black and white photograph of herself sitting with a deer she had killed. And she cut the picture out and glued herself onto this oil painting that had kind of a lake with a little house, and a mountain scene. And I grew up looking at that and I gotta think that obviously had some kind of influence, as far as me doing collage. And she did lots of little things like that; cutting out Hallmark cards and putting people’s photos in there, different things like that. Van Gogh was probably the first artist I was aware of. I don’t even know how it came up. Probably just this story of how he was this crazy guy who cut his ear off. And that was kind of my idea of what an artist was.
S: (laughs) Man, that is still my idea of what an artist is! What are you doing with both ears?
M.K.: That being said, I think I was naïve enough that I could do it because I wasn’t exposed to so much that it seemed overwhelming. It was more of a case of, “Oh, well I could do this.”
S: I guess that naiveté made it a feasible reality. I guess you didn’t have anyone saying you couldn’t.
M.K.: I didn’t; exactly. Because nobody said I could and there was certainly nobody saying that I couldn’t. Whereas my kids, they go to an arts school, that is a performing art school where they offer dance, visual arts and theatre. But you know, I think for them they’ve been exposed to so many things that I think it would be harder for them to (…) it seems so impossible to make it in art nowadays for young kids that I talk to.
S: Why do you think that is?
M.K.: There’s just so much competition, there’s so many artists (…) It’s just so hard to get that ball rolling. I mean it’s certainly doable but it just seems like (…) it’s hard. When I tell people this is what I do for a living, they’re just astonished. “Well, how?”
S: You’ve been exhibited all over the world. What do you think has been key to that level of success? What do you think has helped you kind of step through the portal and achieve that kind of attention?
M.K.: Well, I’d like to believe it’s my work.
M.K.: That’s kind of what I always (…) that was my goal and when I decided that was what I was going to do it was to make work. That’s why I didn’t run off to New York because I knew it would be harder to do that. So in Savannah I’m able to afford a place to work and keep my expenses low and make work. And I think when opportunities do come up, I usually have the work to do something; because I always say, it doesn’t matter if you have the director of the Whitney come to your studio and then don’t have anything to show them. So what’s the point?S: So it’s really been more about talent and sweat than serendipity.
M.K.: Yeah. But you know I don’t know why some people have success and others don’t. Because I certainly know a lot of talented artists, some more than more me, that aren’t having the success that I am. I don’t know why. Sometimes it just happens that way.
S: So when you were growing up during these “lost years” that I couldn’t find any information about, how did you kind of spend your free time? Were you out in the woods; did you hunt and do those kinds of things?
M.K.: Yeah. I grew up in the country. My dad was a farmer and I was just a little redneck boy running around, fishing (…) you know. We lived on the Bayou Mason; we were slumming all summer, building tree houses and forts. I grew up in rural Louisiana and it was twenty years behind on everything; it really still is (laughs). We shared our telephone service with a neighbor, a party line. My grandma had an outhouse. I grew up thinking that was normal (laughs).
S: Yeah, my mom is from Fish Pond, Kentucky and her mom still had an outhouse well into the eighties. It’s like a Third World Country up in those hollers.
M.K.: Oh yeah. You know growing up like that, looking back now, I do think I had a unique situation.
S: And now in the 21st century, it’s becoming an almost extinct American experience.
S: I’m sure there’s Wi-Fi in the holler and bayou now.
M.K.: When I go home and see where I grew up, it’s like a different world now.
S: So Cooter Point is about three-and-a-half hours from New Orleans. When you were growing up would you take road trips there to check out art or just raise hell?
M.K.: I did when I got older. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. But I do love that city.
S: I read an interview that you did with with The 22 Magazine, where you described how you “grew up in the middle of two cultures,” explaining that your “mother’s family are Catholic Cajuns and commercial fisherman”, and your “father’s are Protestants and farmers.” Since you specifically mention those two faiths, were you raised with a strong religious upbringing?
M.K.: Yeah, I was. We were in church three days a week. We went Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday nights most of the time. It was a tiny little church down the road from our house.
S: Did you kind of discard those beliefs or do you still apply those ideas to your life or even work?
M.K.: I still try to hold onto my faith but it’s hard to do. But I wouldn’t say I’m a regular churchgoer. I try to mix that all into my work, somewhat.
S: Between the blend of Catholicism and Protestantism you could be a guilt-plagued, hard worker (laughs) – you get the best of both worlds.
M.K.: Yeah and I married a Catholic (laughs).
S: I’m curious about this recurring use of taxidermy, some of which will be in this upcoming show. In that same interview that I had mentioned, you said that some of that was a “direct response” to how your mom would decorate (…) I guess this deer head (…) “with the appropriate holiday attire.” What did you find so intriguing about that where you wound up emulating that idea, albeit in a more personal and intense scale?
M.K.: It just clicked with me one day in the studio. I had some taxidermy lying around and started hanging stuff on it. I don’t remember exactly how it happened; it just kind of made sense. I’ve been moving more in a sculptural direction for the past several years anyway (…) I’d say 80 to 90 percent of what I do now is sculptural.
S: Those particular taxidermy pieces and other assemblages remind of things like effigies, primitive fetish objects, and religious icons (…) some of them look like these mutant piñatas from some alien planet. Do you have any kind of interest in any particular thread of primitive art or icons?
M.K.: Yeah, I mean all of the above. I’m certainly interested in not only Native American culture but native culture in general. That’s kind of been a fascination of mine for some time. Where I grew up I would find hundreds of arrowheads (…) out on my dad’s farm I’d discover all kinds of things. My grandmother gave me books on Native American tribes and cultures. Every time I go to New York the first thing I do is go to the American Museum of Natural History. I get much more enjoyment out of that than I do from any of the art museums. So I was just interested in how I could create my own art out of contemporary items with some of those things or ideas.
S: Now where do you find these taxidermy pieces?
M.K.: I get them at antique markets or flea markets (…) wherever. People will call me and tell me they have some. I’ve done deer, bison, raccoons, antelopes, geese, turkeys, fish (…) and I’m getting ready to do two life-sized giraffes.
S: Oh wow. Jesus, man. Do you have friends and well-wishers now coming by and bombarding you with stuffed deer and fox?
M.K.: Yeah. I’m kind of ready to be done with it. I think the giraffe work will be the end of it. It is a lot of work.
S: Looking at your site and going kind of chronologically through the work, it seems like every mixed-media piece from like 2004-2008 features some kind of landscape and it’s kind of drenched in these crackling backgrounds of color, texture and energies. But then in the works from 2007-2009, the ideas seemed to quickly shift to the overtly political. You use the kind of inventive, almost psychedelic, use of backgrounds and negative space, but then you began inserting these political and national signifiers like flags, presidents, bald eagles (…) and some of the pieces seem like they address war, race, and civil rights. All that being said, I guess I am wondering if something occurred during those years that made you move towards that approach.
M.K.: Well, I just think our country became interesting. We were gearing up for a new election and Obama running (…) that became our national dialogue. My interests and barometer just kind of switched into that direction. And then you know recently the work that I’ve been doing has almost zero political content. The thing is, with those pieces I really didn’t want them to have any direction one way or another, in the way that people would look at them. I was just putting imagery out there that people could interpret the way that they wanted to. And it worked; one person would say “Oh, it must mean this” and someone else would see the same piece and depending on their political persuasion they would see what they wanted to see. It’s pretty fascinating.
S: Since 2012 and these recent pieces (…) with both the two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces, there seems to be this sense of adornment and almost positive transformation, rather than something disintegrating and decaying. Do you agree with that?
M.K.: I’m not sure. So much of my work is material-based that the material itself drives the direction of the work. And what I’m interested in (…) I went to a bunch of yard sales this morning with my son and it’s just fascinating to me to see the change that I’m drawn to because five to ten years ago I was drawn to completely different things. And I think with my work just being so material-based that a lot of the time that is kind of what happens. Those two things in my brain (…) things that I’m interested in culturally collide in my brain with things that I am interested in physically. When those two things come together (…) that’s kind of where the work of these past three or four years have kind of come out. Now I’m moving somewhere else.
S: Do you have any sense or idea of where your art is going and how it will be developing?
M.K.: I really don’t; not enough to put it into words. I wish I could but I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. We just had a two-week old, our fourth child (…)
S: Congratulations, man.
M.K.: Yeah, thank you (…) so I think those kinds of things also create these kinds of seismic shifts in the work.
S: And it seems like your family are recurring figures in your work; definitely in the photographic pieces. They’ve seemingly always been an undercurrent in there.
M.K.: Yeah; absolutely.
S: Would you feel comfortable walking me through the four images that you sent me for the upcoming show?
S: Let’s start with Anton Rocamora. Who is that, by the way? Is that someone you know?
M.K.: (laughs) Well actually that name has been kind of my alter-ego. My wife and I joked (…) you know when you get married, women don’t always have to change their name and either spouse can change their name (…) so to split the difference I was going to change our last name to “Rocamora” and I’d be Anton.
S: (laughs) Where did that name come from; some weird epiphany at the altar?
M.K.: (laughs) No, I just made it up. Sometimes when I’m traveling, people ask “What’s your name?” so I just come up with one. It’s kind of silly. But to me, that one out of all the deer pieces (…) that one is me. It’s kind of a self-portrait in a sense.
S: And quite colorful I might add. I get kind of an upbeat read on that piece (…) Walt Whitman (laughs): “I celebrate myself – as Anton Rocamora.”
M.K.: (laughs) Yeah; exactly.
S: Okay let’s move on to Justice, Liberty and Equality. I find this one interesting. It seems pretty political. What’s going on there?
M.K.: Well, that’s sort of the motto for our country, right? I can’t remember exactly who said it or where it comes from (…)
S: Or if they still honor it (laughs).
M.K.: Yeah, but you know again it was just trigger words. That’s sort of what I do with titles in my pieces; at least with that body of work (…) mostly with the paintings I give people a title that will trigger something. Everybody’s heard of “Justice, Liberty, and Equality” and we all have an idea of what that means (…) and when you pair what your mind is already thinking with the imagery that you see, hopefully it will make you think of something else entirely.S: Okay, let’s go to How to Make a War.
M.K.: That one is just another one of those things I read somewhere or heard somewhere and it popped into my head as a good title: “How to Make a War.” It might have been something one of my kids said. Sometimes I get things from them. I had a painting titled Every Man Against Himself (…) and my kids were playing and my son yelled “Every man against himself!” (laughs) and man, that’s really it, isn’t it?
S: (laughs) Yeah. He caught on early.
M.K.: Every man against himself. So How to Make a War is another example of putting a provocative title matched with hopefully-provocative imagery and letting the viewer make up their own story (…) to me it’s sort of these kids in a bathroom and there’s writing on the wall, and phone numbers, and a person passing money (…) the cheerleader (…) it’s kind of taking this high school situation where kids are up to no good, and applying it to something very serious.
S: Let’s talk about Helen Estelle. I think this one is really interesting. Now is this one of your children as well?
M.K.: That’s my eight-year-old daughter.
S: Now was this shot in water or did you digitally manipulate this?
M.K.: No, no, a straight shot. We have a glass table on our deck and it had rained and the water had pooled up on it and my daughter was climbing under it (…) the light was just hitting it perfectly; so I ran in and grabbed my camera. I took a bunch of pictures of her. You know, most parents would try and take flattering pictures (laughs) of their kids (…) my poor kids (laughs).
S: (laughs) Yeah, how do they feel about all of this?
M.K.: It drives my wife crazy. On the first day of school she’s like, “Alright kids, let’s take a picture.” And they’ll say, “Okay, but dad told us not to smile.” (laughs).
S: And then you hand them a deer skull covered in ribbons.
M.K.: For sure. “Here son, hold this dead possum.”Steve Williams
Starehouse: How did the idea of Florida Mining Gallery hosting and presenting nullspace gallery come about?
Steve Williams: Our goal from the beginning was to create an atmosphere that embellished installation and artists activating our space. Through a few different curators on staff, we felt we needed some fresh blood and reached out to nullspace. We always respected nullspace and actually worked on a JTA curated event a couple years back. This move is one to focus more on engaging the community, picking up the conversation, and presenting works that are interesting and ones that will hopefully start conversation, make an impression, and educate Jacksonville on museum-quality gallery artists attractive both for collecting and for following.
S: Will this be an ongoing collaboration with nullspace i.e. will you continue to host their exhibits until the unforeseeable future?
S.W.: We love the idea of a nonprofit mentality; shows that we do not have to sell in order to sustain. Jacksonville needs venues that will sustain – and that is our main commitment – can you believe that? A commitment just to sustain. Wow, we have a long way to go and we are on our way. Jacksonville CAN do this. We can be a city of collectors and art supporters.
S: What compelled you collaborate with nullspace? What do you find so engaging about their programming and what are some of your thoughts on their former shows?
S.W.: We think alike. We share some of the same aesthetics. That is of paramount importance to us. We want the highest quality, intellect, conversation, and installation available anywhere.
For more info on Steve Williams and his work, check out:
Starehouse: What was the original impetus for nullspace? What inspired you three directors (Creegan, Shalev, and Polkey) to utilize the concept that the gallery was a de facto “null” space, a blank canvas?
Mark Creegan: From the start we saw the idea of nullspace as a sort of laboratory where an artist is given total freedom (or as much as possible) to create a cohesive environment or complex arrangement of works. My experience as an artist in Jacksonville is that it is rare to be able to explore your practice on an intense level. Usually you are provided a few feet of wall space and that is it. We wanted solo artist shows presenting very sophisticated forms and ideas.
The name came from Rachel Levanger who is a math genius (she is currently getting a PhD in math at Rutgers). She described this idea of the null space as a field or area that contains nothing, its empty. We thought the name fit well because we wanted our space to be a raw, empty field of potentiality.
S: What do you feel like the three of you are looking for when selecting an artist? What is your criterion, if any, for choosing certain artists?
M.C.: I think we mainly look for artists who have the potential of creating really engaging experiences and who can utilize a given space really well. Contemporary artists create meaning through the interaction of material, form, and context. I think all of the artists we have worked with do that sort of dance really well in complicated ways.
S: What do you find so appealing about Kenney’s work?
M.C.: You know, right now, a few days prior to the installation of his show, I still do not have a complete grasp of what to think about his work. But I like that! That is where the curating and my own art practice collide. There are just too many unknowns that will reveal themselves later, and I hope to interesting affects. That is what interests me most. I want to be surprised and confused. Right now I see his works as individual pieces in all their campy glory. I also see them in the context of his studio which is a creative vomitorium! So what it will be to me in a few days? Ask me then.
S: At the Tony Rodrigues exhibit The Sweet Mundane (Oct.-Nov., 2011) if I recall correctly, you and I had a conversation where you had told me that you had to move from your original location (108 E. Adams St.), and then possibly even the second location (109 E. Bay St.) , due to the cost prohibitive and seemingly mandatory insurance fees. Was that stipulated by Off the Grid or was that a city ordinance to rent a space downtown?
M.C.: We lost the Adams Street space due to it being rented to a full paying company. We knew we could lose that space due to that and we were glad we had almost two years there. Then the second space, we had two great shows with Mark Estlund and Tony, but it was so divided into three small areas, we missed the larger single space of the original; so doing any more shows would have been not as fun. The issue with the insurance is that we just didn’t want to pay unless we either had fun or could recoup some of those funds.
For more info on Mark Creegan and his work, check out:
Starehouse: What do you find intriguing about Marcus Kenney’s work?
Kurt Polkey: Marcus Kenney’s work is the kind that anyone would like. It’s an over- the-top experience for any viewer. It’s flashy. Kenney’s work is so endearing that even those who only go to art shows for the free wine will love his work.
But I’m a curmudgeon. I don’t hate art, but I come pretty close sometimes; so I didn’t fall at first blush. After my second and third visit with his work however, I realized there was something beyond the bright colors, little kids, and animal heads. His pictures and sculptures tell a story that is completely authentic. Marcus is bona fide.
S: Part of the allure of original nullspace shows seemed to be in presenting certain exhibits that combined disparate artists with distinctively different styles in collaboration. Why did that idea come about? Did nullspace approach the artists or vice versa?
K.P.: The nullspace curatorial approach is a simple one; get out of the way.
Typically we’ve approached the artist. It’s easier that way. There’s not much new in the art world, so sometimes putting art or artists that wouldn’t normally be put together can make an original statement. It can also make us feel like we are doing something.
S: You are not only a director/co-curator of nullspace but also as a visual artist and presented your own exhibit there with Masculine Pictures. I’m wondering if the presentation, logistics, or approach of the artists from the shows prior to yours influenced your own exhibit, in the sense of works, installation, or maybe avoiding certain obstacles or roadblocks the previous artists might have encountered.
K.P.: I wish I had a better answer for your question, but I just do my thing.
For more info on Kurt Polkey and his work, check out:
Starehouse: How did you originally become aware of or familiar with Kenney’s work?
Jefree Shalev: To be honest, I’m not totally sure. Steve Williams may have suggested we check him out or he may have come up on a search we did of Savannah artists. Mark, Kurt, and I, in this go around with nullspace, want to broaden our pool of artists to show. We’re interested in bringing regional, national, and even international artists to Jacksonville. We believe that the art community here is so strong and so supportive that it will welcome and support artists from around the world. In the past, it’s been difficult to achieve the kind of attendance you’d like to see at shows where the artist was not local or very well known. One way we intend to counteract that is by having two-person shows, on occasion, where we’ll group a local Jacksonville artist with someone known more nationally who shares a common theme in their work or a common approach with the local artist. The first couple of shows we have planned, however, are solo shows. When we decided to search regionally for artists, it was clear that Savannah, home of SCAD, would be a great place to start. After an internet search of artists working in the area, we settled on a few we wanted to visit and interview. Marcus was the first one we met with. We were immediately impressed by the quality, the breadth, and the sheer impact of his work. We are quite honored to have him show with nullspace.
S: What do you find so engaging about Kenney’s creative vision?
J.S.: On one level, the work is very approachable. It’s fun, it’s got something to say which is immediately conveyed (especially the paintings), but it’s also very rich and very varied. The more I spent time with the work and thought about it, the more I realized how important it was. Marcus has a lot to say about our culture, about race and economics, and about history, and not just the way white men have reported it. His photographs are otherworldly and in fact, much of his work seems to exist in or seems to come from an alternative reality. He turns symbols and hierarchies on their heads and in that way, shows us another way to think about things. His assemblages are steeped in history, our ancient past or our post-apocalyptic future, if it’s possible to speak of something that hasn’t happened yet as history. The relics he uses to adorn his work have a history of their own that is very important to Marcus and then the finished work will often have a name derived from a historical figure; one who’s accomplishments may be little known outside of a small subculture. Marcus is southern and traditional and iconoclastic and rebellious and none of that is in the least contradictory. He is very well integrated, mystical and practical, with a keen eye and the ear of a writer. Literature has a large influence on him and where once, his work was quite narrative, it has evolved into something with more depth; he now creates characters and the narrative is much more subjective or subdued entirely. There is, throughout the work, a deep investigation into what it means to be human. Often, he will use animals and wild forces to help us see where we belong in the world. What more could we hope for of our artists?
S: I noticed that you are also creating a catalog for this show; you also published similar books for previous nullspace exhibits. Considering so much contemporary publication seems geared towards the internet/social media, why do you think it is necessary, or even crucial, to present a catalog with your shows? I imagine it could be cost prohibitive, but does Blurb make it more feasible since they seemingly offer a kind of “made to order” service?
J.S.: Listen, the internet is great for providing snippets of information that you can click on and then just as easily surf away from when something more urgent pops up on your screen. It’s not a good medium, in my opinion, for taking a long careful look at something. There’s also something to be said for the physicality of an actual book. So much art is available to be seen on the internet, but that is not a substitute in any way for seeing a work in person, for seeing that work in relation to something next to it, and for really getting a sense for how the work was made. The way things join, brush strokes, side views are all important. Likewise, the physical catalog is a way of putting the art in your hands, not just in front of your eyes. Having said that, I’m not sure how many more of these we’ll do. They’re quite labor-intensive and if the public doesn’t support the effort, I become the only one who really gets anything out of doing them, which is not an insignificant point. For me, they’re immensely educational and I gain enormously having spent so much time thinking and writing about an artist’s work.
S: Do you have any other upcoming nullspace exhibits confirmed? Have the three of you set up a programming schedule yet?
J.S.: We plan on doing shows every other month with an opening to be held on the second Friday of the month. For December, we have an amazing show planned. A local art collector, Michael Cavendish, will allow us to show two installations that he has purchased from the artist, David De Boer. In addition to those two installations, we are talking with De Boer about bringing supplemental material with which to craft an entire curated experience. There is currently a documentary about the installations in Cavendish’s collection and the cross country trip they endured on their way to Jacksonville which is in the final stages of production; which we hope to show in December as well. The project deals with lofty concepts related to art and ownership and authenticity and more. February will bring a two-person show: Greg Eltringham and Patrick Moser will be teaming up to investigate the ways that masks work. Do they hide a person’s true identity or do they allow the true identity to emerge due to the cloak of anonymity which potentially frees the wearer? In April, we will be presenting the work of Craig Drennen, whose longitudinal studies of the characters present in failed books, short lived television shows, and critically panned movies makes for intricate and cross pollinated events spanning across our peripatetic culture to the depths of his empathetic imagination.
For more info on Jefree Shalev and his upcoming community arts project, “Our Shared Past,” check out:
Daniel A. Brown