Brian Kenny was born 1982 in Heidelberg, Germany, on an American military base. While growing up, he traveled extensively throughout the U.S. with his Army family. As a teenager, he was a competitive gymnast. After high school, he went to Oberlin Conservatory to study voice, but eventually left school to concentrate on visual art. In 2004, Kenny moved to New York, where he began collaborating with Slava Mogutin under the team name SUPERM. Together they are responsible for gallery and museum shows in New York; Los Angeles; Houston; London; Moscow; Berlin; Oslo; Bergen, Norway; León, Spain; and Haifa, Israel. In 2008 he had his first solo exhibition of drawings and etchings in New York. Kenny works across drawing, painting, sculpture, text, sound, video, and blogging. In addition, he often collaborates on projects with other artists, including Robert W. Richards, Matthias Herrmann, Gio Black Peter, and fashion designers Nicolas Petrou and Walter Van Beirendonck. His upcoming projects include a solo show at AS IF gallery in New York, a SUPERM show in Barcelona, Spain, and a collaboration with fashion designer Rick Owens.
The Advocate: Why are you an artist?
Brian Kenny: Well, I think making art is the most beautiful and effective way for me to act inclusively with the universe. Art is how I consciously identify myself, interact with experience, and, ultimately, contribute to history. But more than that, I just love to roll around all afternoon drawing every manner of beauties and blasphemies into a blissful infinity.
What catches your eye?
Recently, in the subways I’ve been noticing the way people anonymously tag and alter the faces of people in those giant poster ads. They can be so funny and brutally honest that I’ve begun photographing them anytime I spot a really good one. Often people will go after the eyes, changing the expression or blanking them out. Messages usually reference sex, money, or the banality of the ads themselves. Considering most intrepid ad busters make their changes in seconds and face a bit of danger doing it, their frantic efforts come off as sincere and compulsive. Most people walk and stand by them without a second glance, but to me, they are always more interesting then the ad by itself.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
I usually do it with my right hand, but sometimes I’ll do it with my left hand too ... and on rare occasions, no hands at all. I usually do it by myself, but love doing it with my boyfriend and other friends. On the floor, in bed, on a table, on a plane, in the gallery and museums too. Drawing, that is.
How do you choose your subjects?
First I look into a mirror — ha! No, I just concentrate on whatever I find exciting. Right now, I’m becoming more interested in expressing distortion of gender and sexual boundaries in my artwork. For years after coming out, I was very much wrapped up in connecting only with the macho world of male masculinity, but here I am now — totally fascinated with musicians like New Orleans Booty Bounce hip-hop MCs Sissy Nobby and Big Freedia, and the gender-bending films of artists like Ryan Trecartin and Zachary Drucker (the latter being a young male-to-female whose boyfriend is female-to-male). These people are defying stereotypes and really embracing their gender/sexual ambiguities. I think it’s titillating and cutting edge.
How do you describe your work?
A shameless abyss of masturbatory doodlings ... or perhaps more historically, a vast visual panorama of self-portraits, sexual archetypes, masks, memories, bling, poetry and distorted creatures that oscillates between autobiography, social commentary, and the absurd.
What makes a good artwork to you?
Art that really starts to fuck things up! I live for seeing art that really grabs you and opens your head — when you walk away feeling amazed and enlightened. I can think of countless examples, but this last year I’ve been blown away by these live performances that require incredible mental and physical strength like Marina Abramovic at MOMA last spring and similarly, Terence Koh at Mary Boone. I watched Terence destroying his knees to slowly revolve around a giant pile of salt in silence, doing just this live for the entire run of the show, seemingly pointless. Yes, superficially it’s not exactly enjoyable for the viewer, but on a deeper level, somehow it’s very powerful to see a human do this. I marvel at what it must be like for him or Marina to experience this kind of singularity. I can only imagine how transformative it is for them.
What artists do you find inspiring and why?
My boyfriend, Slava is undoubtedly the biggest inspiration in my life. I remember when I met him cruising around at a nightclub, and less than a day later I was doing an experimental film on the streets of Brooklyn throwing eggs at Slava’s friend (and ex) wearing only diapers and boots! It was radical and beautiful, and I fell in love. Slava’s photography, poetry and enthusiasm still inspires me today and I feel lucky to be able to live and work together with him. I’m also inspired by artists like William Burroughs, David Wojnarowicz, Basquiat and collectives like General Idea and Gelitin and have made friends with some brilliant and radical artists like Attila Richard Lukacs, Bruce LaBruce, Vaginal Davis, and Gio Black Peter.