Artist Brian Kenny talks us through his new solo exhibition I’mmaterial
Expressive and maximal, Brian Kenny’s vast array of mediums come together at TW Fine Art in Brooklyn to create powerful pieces of queer art.
- Joey Levenson
- 15 July 2021
New York-based artist Brian Kenny’s new solo exhibition I’mmaterial, at TW Fine Art in Brooklyn, is a fascinating and visually striking exploration of gender, sexuality, and politics in contemporary North America. Known for his experimental and expressionistic practice, Brian mixes mediums such as painting, illustration, collage, sculpture, and textiles – oftentimes all at once. His talent is frustratingly large, and his command over a myriad of artistic elements is vastly adept. “My art all started with drawing,” Brian tells It’s Nice That. “I’ve drawn obsessively my whole life, and it’s still my favourite thing to do.” Brian’s foundation in drawing is evident across his portfolio, with nearly every piece incorporating some signature scribblings from the artist. “All the other mediums I’m exploring like, painting, textile art, and animation all branch out from drawing,” he explains. This focus is what makes Brian’s vast collection of work all feel so cohesive. On display at I’mmaterial, the works come together like a harmonious mosaic, recognisable as a whole collection. Standing separately in his portfolio, we begin to see how each piece is incredibly distinct from the other.
“I don’t know if I have a signature style because I like to experiment with new techniques and visual languages, but I do a lot of intricate super flat line drawings,” Brian says. “I’m definitely not a minimalist and lean toward more narrative and figurative artwork than abstraction or decoration”. Minimalist, he is not: Brian’s work pops with vibrant colours, characters and shapes, evoking a Warholian play on pop culture. Frequently, the synaesthetic colours we attach to American mass culture appear like prominent motifs. “I like telling stories, sharing ideas and conveying specific emotions and experiences in my art,” Brian explains. “It’s all improv, I literally make it all up as I go along, like jazz”. It’s hard to imagine that Brian never plans a piece, considering their intricacies. Yet, it’s the truth. “Like a puzzle, I enjoy the challenge of figuring out what to do next as I go along, and I’m always surprised by what ends up coming out,” he says. “Nothing is sacred, nothing rejected”.
Brian’s freeform approach and process are impressive when considering the scale of his work. But, as he explains, it simply works: “For me, thinking and analysing too much about the end result takes all the fun out of art-making,” Brian says. “I really just try to get out of my own way, and let some sub or super-conscious power inside guide me.” Despite his art being a takeover of the subconscious, Brian puts acute attention to detail on what surrounds it. Take the title of his new solo exhibition, I’mmaterial, for example. “With the added apostrophe, it can be seen as both ‘immaterial’ and ‘I’m material’, which feels right for a show that presents a wide range of different physical materials, many of which were selected for their fetishistic tactile appeal to me.” Materials such as sports jerseys, bullet holes, book pages, wooden wands, stickers, tassels or metal spikes, are all part of Brian’s arsenal. “But,” he explains, “they are all really just vessels that are empowered and ‘made alive’ by the immaterial stories, feelings, concepts, and recognitions imbued in them, and the reactions and experiences they provoke in the viewer.”
One of our favourite inclusions in the exhibition is Brian’s textile work. “It all began about ten years ago when I taught myself how to sew in order to create a series of re-interpreted American flags I had made drawings of,” he explains. “I immediately fell in love with sewing, as there’s something very satisfying in a tactile sense about using a sewing machine and I found that, like drawing, I could happily sew for hours on end.” What’s most interesting is that Brian hasn’t relied on typical fabrics or patterns, and instead raided his storage closet for old clothing, sports uniforms, and jerseys. “It was a win-win for me because I could continue to indulge in my fetish for collecting and enjoying sports gear and make art that was personal and influenced by my background steeped in the symbolic pageantry and decoration of various sports I played, Boy Scouts and my upbringing in a military, catholic family, but now reflective of a much more queer, liberal and creative mindset.” It’s this exact kind of queering of the pervasive consumerist, masculine, and aggressive qualities of contemporary American society that make Brian’s new exhibition all the more worth viewing.
Brian Kenny: Eleusis, signed and dated on recto, mixed media on colouring book paper, 12 1/2 x 19 inches (Copyright © Brian Kenny, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.