Today’s newsletter is a conversation between artist & writer Angie Rico and artist Jack Kenna. I’m constantly aware of the limits of my own art knowledge, so I was thrilled when Angie wrote to me proposing the following interview, which introduced me to two emerging artists working out of Vancouver. -TD
As we sit at home day after day, staring at the same objects on our desk, our room, our home, Jack Kenna lets us in on some of the strategies he employs to find vibrancy within this sometimes involuntary, and sometimes sought after, circularity. Kenna's practice includes reworking subject matter in different mediums, convoluting their meaning over time. His colorful and constantly evolving explorations are often busy, detailed, and textured. Like a game of broken telephone, Kenna moves farther away from his source material, moving closer to the essence of the objects.
Material interactions take priority and serve as a departure for him to humorously examine the relation of human beings to the items we hold on to. Throughout the breadth of his work, these items morph and accumulate to create a playful tension between over-stimulation and the humdrum of a familiar, domestic landscape.
Angie Rico: Would you say you are primarily a painter?
Jack Kenna: I would first and foremost call myself a drawer and painter. Drawing is the thing I do most often, just because of the ease of being able to do it anywhere, casually. I just love making things, any opportunity to learn new materials is super exciting to me. I learned stained glass from my mom who’s a great stained glass artist. Just recently, I did my first linocut ever for Patio Press, a project started by Mark Johnsen and Sarah Jeanne-Bourget and I chose to do a milk crate with lots of flowers and butterflies which is pretty quintessential for me. I would say it’s definitely integral to my practice to be using all these different mediums.
AR: What is your approach to working with different materials?
JK: I’ve found that when I’m working with a new medium, a great entry point is to work with subject matter that I’m already really comfortable with. If I’m feeling not so adept at all the techniques it’s going to help me if I choose a subject matter that’s really familiar, that way I don’t have to falter with two things at once. I’ve done series where I make a painting, and then I recreate that exact painting in ceramics and it of course ends up so different and has its own particularities, but the conversation between those two works is always really fun. It’s interesting to see how the subject matter translates between each one.
AR: How did not being able to go to the studio [due to COVID-19 restrictions] affect your practice?
JK: When lockdown first happened I was drawing a lot again. For a long time, I fell out of the practice of just drawing on my sketchbook for myself, not really for anything or anyone. So since March, I’ve been hitting the sketchbook again, which feels great, because it’s basically like a diary for me.
AR: Have you been revisiting other past practices?
JK: I’ve been mining this notebook from 2016 that I have full of poems and working those into paintings. Like in a painting I’ll depict a desk full of random objects and then put in pieces of paper that have my poems written on them or have my doodles as a way to blend drawing and painting. Fusing drawing or painting or sculpture or writing into one really cohesive work, that’s been one of my longstanding goals ever since I started making art. I’m not a confident writer so I tend to sneak things in or buffer them with a painting. In some way, it feels safer to do it in that way.
AR: Something that strikes me about your work is how everything seems connected in some way and finds a way to touch back on a previous work somehow.
JK: I like making this kind of feedback loop that is very self-referential, it gives you endless avenues to go down. It’s like a wormhole. It keeps me very engaged in my practice and it’s kind of a strategy I’ve made to never run out of ideas and to keep working and cycling through and every once in a while adding in something new to see its effect.
AR: A lot of your paintings deal with the idiosyncrasy of spaces we build around ourselves, how do you think this theme is dealt with in this current context of home confinement?
JK: I’ve always painted a lot of interiors, domestic scenes, and collections of objects inspired by your uncle’s garage or your grandma’s attic, just these accidental museums of precious objects, or maybe they’re junk or they’re both, but they tell intricate stories about a person’s life. Now more than ever with everyone stuck at home we all got really familiar with the things around us. We all spent a lot of time deep-cleaning our houses and sorting through our things and getting rid of junk. I became really acutely aware of everything that I choose to surround myself with, either consciously or subconsciously.
AR: What do you think of the word DIY? Would you use it to describe your practice?
JK: Right now with Vancouver back in lockdown, I’m working on an art auction via Instagram with a big group of us, under my friend Simon Greifel’s framing business called Exotik Custom Framing. It’s very DIY and all coming together because we just miss each other, but also because this year everyone lost opportunities, so it’s a good way to get cash in artist pockets and get the community together again. This other side of my artistic practice that is more on a community organizing end has become really crucial to me. You also see that with Ground Floor Art Centre, the gallery that I started with Yasmine Haiboub and India Eliot. That was really all about feeling frustrated that we didn’t have more opportunities as art students to show work and be in conversation around exhibitions. Seeing a need and doing it yourself, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish with just a few like-minded people who are passionate about the same things you are. In that sense, the DIY ethos has been very important to me.
Angie Rico is a Mexican born artist living and working in Vancouver, Canada. Rooted in a documentarian sensibility, her filmmaking and writing practice attempt to distill a liminal reality often exercising techniques such as bilingualism, humour, and DIY aesthetics. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University.
You can read more of Rico’s writing at SAD Magazine.
Follow Jack Kenna on Instagram here.
Loved this interview! Such a great newsletter all around. Canada needs more of this!