Marcus Kenney’s work embodies the bizarre boldness of the south in a manner as true and transparent as his dialect and demeanor. On a recent visit with Kenney, we talked about art, culture, the south, and even the television show “Naked and Afraid,” all while shuffling around his methodically berzerk studio. “Yeah, it’s chaos,” he laughed with a drawl so honest I was immediately on a farm in Louisiana.
Kenney, a Savannah transplant of fifteen years, has shown his work in New York, London, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Paris, New Orleans and St Louis. His work is less of a studied idea of the south and more of a literal explosion of unabashed brain trust. “I like to create problems for myself. I create the problem, then I look around and see what’s here that can help me solve it,” he said.
Looking around his studio, it’s easy to see that his process is unlike anyone else I’ve met and his connection with the history of his work is unparalleled. “I was in Atlanta with a buddy, he was shopping for something for a client. We went into this interior design store and after five minutes I had to get the hell out. I found this abandoned house and went in to poke around and found this old rusted tin can. I loved it; who used it? What did they do? Where were they from? It told such a story,” he said. Kenney, moving more into self taught traditional painting practices now said, “That’s my problem with the paint: there’s no history. With found objects, people already have a connection with them, they have an intrinsic history about them. But with paint? You’re telling a story on your own and the connection is solely from the image you create.” Kenney’s past works have all been sculpture, collage, or a beautifully weird mixture of the two. Now, he’s created yet another problem: what to create without that history.
His work is like going to a flea market in New Orleans where all of the proprietors are lounging in caftans smoking opium and drinking absinthe- it’s stunning -as if Toulouse Lautrec had a lovechild with Nina Simone and that child embodied both of their experiences. “I found this baby doll in a flea market and became obsessed with it, so I made 300 of them and put them on the steps of The Telfair,” he said, “The ideas always come from something I find that I can’t get out of my head. Then I make something with it or a new version of it.”
For more information about Marcus Kenney visit http://www.marcuskenney.com/ or come see his work in The Judge Realty Permanent Collection at 347 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia.
Photography: Heath Daniel, Judge Realty Creative Director