5 Things We Learned... Marcus Kenney
MARCUS KENNEY, ARTIST
While sorting out my grandparents' estate some summers ago, I came across an array of boxes labeled Haberdashery! Trims! Buttons! and the like. Never one to throw away beautiful materials - even scraps - I thought about who would appreciate the unique contents, but also who might actually use them. All roads led to artist Marcus Kenney.
Based in Savannah, Georgia, Marcus works in many mediums including collage, sculpture, paint, photography and installation. He translates odds and ends of every size, shape, and material into soulful compositions that illustrate personal narratives, southern history, family, race, rural and mythological landscapes, among other themes. The works are fantastic puzzles of material - sculpted and arranged into striking compositions that take on theatrical and cinematic qualities through their use of layered colors and intricately composed imagery and details.
Marcus has had solo museum exhibitions at the Jepson Center at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, GA, and the Masur Museum of Art, Monroe, LA. Prominent group exhibitions include the Georgia Triennial in 2002 and 2003 as well as "Georgia Seven", a 2004 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Atlanta, GA, curated by well-known artist Radcliffe Bailey. He has also exhibited in New York, London, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Paris, New Orleans and St Louis. His bibliography includes Art in America, Art News, Oxford American, The New York Sun, The NY Times, The Boston Globe, Art Papers, New American Painter, South Magazine, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and National Public Radio, among others.
Here are 5 Things We Learned about Marcus.
What made you...you?
I was raised in rural Louisiana, born to a Cajun mother named Stella Dupuy Juneau and an Irish father named Chester. Both of my families were very old world and hunted, fished and had large gardens that supplied the majority of our food. My maternal side's first language was French and they were commercial fishermen. My Irish side was farmers and carpenters. Both families consisted of a very large number of people. My father was one of eleven and my Momma was the baby of seven siblings; so needless to say, I had a whole lot of cousins and extended family around. Growing up between these two worlds of French/Catholic and Irish/Pentecostal added to my rounded view of religion and culture. As a child, I would scour my dad’s cotton fields on the hunt for arrowheads and pottery. I found hundreds of them and became fascinated with the various tribes that inhabited my part of the world. That early interest has bled over into my studio practice where I tend to think of my sculptures as artifacts to be seen in a natural history museum as opposed to an art museum. My favorite museums are not filled with art, but with artifacts.
I think growing up in an extremely rural environment in a state with such a rich cultural history has shaped me in my own unique way. When I was 13, my house burned to the ground and we lost everything. This proved to be a strange pinnacle in my life that has led me on a journey of being interested, if not obsessed, with other peoples' histories and belongings. My work is mostly comprised from the discarded remnants and belongings of strangers. Oh I could go on.
When are you happiest?
I am happiest when I am with my family in nature. I have four children and my wife, Sarah, and I have tried to instill in them a love for the natural world. Together, we spend time scavenging for mushrooms, picking berries and wild greens as we take walks through the woods. I am happiest while swimming in a lake, wading in a stream, hiking up a mountain and jogging down a dirt road. When I feel the smallest is when I feel the most fulfilled. It makes me happy to listen to my four-year-old sing “Frozen”, to watch my twelve-year-old run track, to hear my sixteen-year-old play his trumpet and marvel at my oldest son navigating the world through the keys on his piano, all the while observing my wife orchestrate a symphony of love to the tune of a house full of chaos. Calm, wild nature accentuated with a chaotic crew to experience it with: this makes me happy.
Would you rather have a muse or be a muse?
I think it’s a bit of both. I’m not sure I have ever been a muse but I certainly have had the opportunity to inspire and encourage others with my work and life. Making the decision in my early 20s to be an artist and have a large family may not have been the most logical choice for someone in my position, but I think it inspires others to know that life can be a little crazy and still enjoyable on one's own terms. I believe that anyone who has walked the path of an artist has the potential to inspire others to not only create things that never existed but also to create a life that never existed. I am amused by many people, but most of all my family.
Who do you admire?
I most admire the people that have found a way to live a life by their own terms. The ones who have by choice decided that a well-beaten path was not an authentic way for them. I admire those that have overcome the various obstacles that society puts in their way and who have refused to be shaped by the culture, but instead have shaped the culture. Artists like Kate Bush, David Bowie, DeKooning, Rauschenberg, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelo, Prince, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Robert Frank and Gabriel García Márquez have given me a lifetime of art to consider and reflect on. I love to learn about the lives of people who have overcome personal obstacles to bring forth a truthful and authentic voice into the world. I admire those who have devoted a lifetime to trailblazing and not resting on past accomplishments. Often we put too much emphasis on what artists produce instead of who they are as a person. To me, art isn’t just about what we make or what we write or bring to the table, it is also about the commitment to teaching and passing on what has been absorbed. The people that I admire the most are the ones who have shared a truth and it touches all of those who experience it, undeniably.
What is important?
When I was younger I thought it was the big picture and I wanted to conquer the world. But with experience I realize more and more that it is actually the very small things that truly matter. The light after a rain, the smell of a gardenia, the taste of a fruit fleshly picked from a tree. The conversations with strangers, the opportunities to help others, the ability to share a meal or to engage in conversation. The in-between moments are becoming the things that I find the most important in my life. The time I am able to spend with my family and friends is invaluable. I ask myself “What do you have that can't be replaced?”.
Images from left to right: Marcus Kenney, photo by Cedric Smith; Put Your Hands Over the Side of the Boat, 55 x 90 x 7 inches, 2016, mixed media on panel; TimeLine, 49 x 23 x 28 inches, 2017, mixed media sculpture with neon; Bucks Bottom, 96 x 96 x 12 inches, 2018, mixed media on panel; EYENO, 78 x 54 x 8 inches, 2016, mixed media on ping pong table; The Reason the River Rose, 60 x 60 x 8 inches, 2017, mixed media on panel