Brian Kenny Creates Art from Our Second Skin
Artwork: Love to Look.
Oh what a difference a year makes! Last Fall, Crave featured Brian Kenny in “Wall to Wall,” giving viewers a look at the life of the artist inside his Brooklyn studio. We’re catching up with Kenny to speak about his new work, a series of flags and banners made of sports jerseys, shorts, and durags that are as compelling as they are complex, evoking a visceral, tactile sensibility that calls to the touch.
I’d like to pick up where we last left off. How’s studio life? How has the space given you room to grow and advance as an artist?
Brian Kenny: I LOVE the studio life. I’m tremendously grateful to have my own little art lab to experiment and bring my art monsters to life! Of course, it isn’t essential to being a good artist. For many years, I simply made art on the living room floor of the tiny apartment I shared with my boyfriend and did well enough. And I still enjoy making art in unconventional places like on trains, planes, inside of nightclubs, in the jury box or out in nature.
However, having a studio has allowed me to create larger works of art and does increase my overall productivity. It also represents a deeper level of commitment to my practice. Instead of making art at home, where I can be distracted by all the comforts and details of home life, I now go to the studio five days a week like a normal job. I like this because it ensures I’m giving the time and focus necessary to become a better artist.
I love the evolution of your style. I feel like I’m seeing a development that is growing out of your work in collage and taking form in your art. Please speak about this new work: where did it begin and how has it taken shape?
The banners and flags are totally an evolution of my style—literally. I’m using my old sports gear as the resource material for the artwork. Like virtually all of my work, it all begin naturally. You remember when I was stylin’ as a wigger back in the day (my early 20s). Everything was oversized, and sporty. Like a crow I’ve always had a penchant for shiny things and so football and basketball jerseys and shorts, and even durags were my MO.
I didn’t collect so many jerseys because I followed or even cared about the teams or brands emblazoned on them, it was simply more of a fetish for this sporty, sexy and hyper-masculine gear. Wearing it made me feel hot, like a bad ass, a thug, a rebel, a sex object, which was very liberating for me at the time. It was a huge confidence boost.
But as I became older, I phased out of that style for a couple reasons; overall fashion trends shifted away from oversized baggy clothes to skinny jeans and more form fitting clothing, shiny, flashy, athletic shorts and jerseys gave way to the matte look and more hi-tech materials. I also began to intentionally dress more often in favor of a dressier, more professional style to signal that I’m to be taken seriously as a man, a businessman, rather than a sexy, but ultimately juvenile thug drag.
Nevertheless, I saved and stored all my old wigger gear because I’m a hoarder like that. And I’m glad I did because after I learned how to sew to create the deconstructed American flag series, I realized I could give my old gear new life by creating art of it in the form of flags and banners. It was a no-brainer to start doing this because it was a win-win situation; I could continue to “sport” my sexy gear but in more serious, business-related context, as artwork.
Please speak about your interest in working it cloth. What new possibilities does it provide for you as an artist?
I love using fabric and cloth to make art because it’s a medium that holds a lot of power in the human psyche. We use them as clothing to brand ourselves, to express our personal identity and individuality, to attract others or show our support, interest or membership in various groups. We use them to beautify and add comfort to our homes in the form or curtains, carpets, blankets, pillows sheets and soft furniture.
We use banners, and flags everywhere like in churches, stadiums, schools and capitol buildings to convey identity, beliefs, history, and desires. There is a “closeness” we have to fabrics; they are our second skins, our first surface. I believe the use of fabric in art-making adds a kind of extra power to the work because of these connections. In addition, as a medium, it’s extraordinarily versatile, widely available, and easy and cheap to transport.
Where would you like this work to go?
I’m not sure what will happen next, but I believe I’m on the right path and this work will go where it is supposed to go, all for the best. Beyond sewing banners and flags from my old clothing, I’ve recently expanded my resource material to include discarded printed fabrics used for commercial advertising, like vinyl wrapped billboards or large graphic displays in stores and store windows. Again this was a natural, serendipitous evolution as my own art studio is nested within a giant commercial production studio run by a dear friend and collector.
At the beginning of the year, I was commissioned by the Bailey House, a charity that provides housing to the homeless and disadvantaged LGBTQ and HIV+ people, to create an artwork for their annual fundraising benefit. Since Bailey House was a client of the commercial studio where my studio is situated, I was offered the use of the larger studio’s materials and equipment to create the art and so I decided to use their amazing industrial sewing machine and their discarded commercial graphics from previous projects to create a banner. In order to create an entirely new image from the old ads, I drew and painted on them, cut them up, re-collaged them and sewed them down, like a quilt. To my surprise, the project was so much fun and came out so beautifully that I fell in love with this new process and decided to continue making more. And I haven’t stopped.
All artwork: ©Brian Kenny.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.