Photographs by Brian Kenny
Brian Kenny will draw on paper. He will draw on walls, doors, and windows. He will draw on himself. He will even draw on you—his thoughtful imagery leaves lasting impressions on viewers' minds. The German-born, New York-based artist works with all mediums ranging from painting, textile, video, and performance, but his favorite is drawing.
Kenny's induction into the professional art world began in 2004. He was tired of the mundane—the beige, corporate life he was leading. He needed color and found it within a fellow artist who eventually became the love of his life, Slava Mogutin. He moved to New York City where he immediately started collaborating with other artists.
"I fell in crazy in love with Slava and creative living," Kenny said. "I drank the Kool-Aid! I ate the forbidden fruit! I’ve never looked back. It was glorious."
He is attracted to work that is introspective while simultaneously makes an outward, important statement, like Gio Black Peter. However, he finds inspiration everywhere and so his artwork is displayed that way. "I’m a big fan of making it all up as I go, and so I like to use my immediate surroundings, materials and current events or zeitgeists for inspiration in my art-making," said Kenny.
And, at Love My Way, an ambitious group art exhibition opening April 26, curated by Jean-Pierre Blanc and Pau Avia as part of the 34th annual Hyéres International Festival of fashion, photography and accessories, in Hyéres, France, his artwork is everywhere. His pieces are thought-provoking and he often uses autobiographical themes to reach a larger audience - through his work, he touches on gender and sexuality with the hopes of exposing viewers to different ways of thinking about these issues.
As part of the festival's opening, he will paint his body and a mural in front of an audience. The festival is hosted at Villa Romaine—an estate decorated by mirrored walls and guarded by tall Cypress trees, a "slice of heaven," according to Kenny. He is adding to that divine space by adorning certain surfaces with his illustrations. Drawings of the Statue of Liberty, squirrels, pinecones, hummingbirds, cacti, Cypress trees, and even portraits of himself grace the walls and windows of Villa Romaine.
If you could describe your art in three words, what would they be?
Expressionistic, Queer, Maximalist.
You use an array of mediums to create art. Do you have a favorite?
Drawing. Everything began with drawing. Every project starts and builds upon drawings. It’s my comfort zone, my dance floor.
How do you use art to comment on controversial and important social issues?
Art is a great way to be progressive and outspoken because (most) people automatically understand and accept art as a place to present new or unusual ideas and perspectives. People are just more receptive to whatever it is you want to express than in other contexts, so I feel encouraged to exploit that opportunity and help move us all forwards.
You created designs for t-shirts for Adam’s Nest, images of animal heads atop male and female bodies. How do you connect art and philanthropy? Can you explain that specific endeavor?
There’s no better way to help your fellow neighbor than through your own talents. I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to become an artist and I so actively accept many opportunities to pay it forward to others using my skills. I firmly believe that your health and well-being is also my health and well-being. Separateness is superficial and illusory, our unity is a fundamental truth. Do what you can.
You have a background in commercial work in fashion, do you have a favorite collaboration? If so, why?
Every collaboration is unique and interesting in its own way, but I truly loved my collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix. It was a total joy to work with their creative director, Sacha Walckoff, a great designer and art collector in his own right, and his team at Lacroix. They gave me complete freedom and trust to create whatever I wanted, and because our artistic sensibilities align, for the most part, the result was an easy success.
Do you have any exciting projects that you’re working on?
Yes, after the big festival in Hyères, I’m going to Dallas to paint my biggest mural yet! The city teamed up with a nonprofit LGBT initiative, Arttittude, and commissioned me to create a massive 105-foot mural celebrating the original transgender activists present at the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. I’m thrilled and honored to help increase trans visibility through my artwork. They are a severely under-served community that still faces appalling discrimination worldwide and absolutely deserves more love and attention.
What are you most looking forward to while attending the Hyères Festival?
I’m very excited about performing at the opening of the main group art exhibition “LOVE MY WAY." I will be body painting myself in my underwear and making a freehand mural live. Think war paint meets pep rally meets Keith Haring.
What is the theme of the exhibit “LOVE MY WAY”?
The theme is exactly that; love my way. Visions of love, particularly queer love, from each artist. It’s a massive, decadent exhibition featuring well over a 100 hundred fantastic artists including masters like Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Pierre et Gilles, Pierre Molinier, Jean Cocteau and Nan Goldin.
What are some takeaways you think the attendees of the exhibit will leave with?
I imagine that viewers will experience an invigorating and more expansive notion of love and community. There’s an overwhelming amount of beauty in this exhibition, not only in the artwork being shown but also in the gorgeous villa hosting the show.