by JOANELLE MULRAIN
Florida Mining Gallery founder, artist and entrepreneur Steve Williams knows and has admired artist Marcus Kenney for years. Williams, along with the forward-thinking triad of nullspace Gallery co-owners – artists Jefree Shalev, Kurt Polkey and Mark Creegan – formed a progressive, collaborative effort between Florida Mining and nullspace to expand ambitiously into the region with the shared goal of raising the bar of art exhibitions in Jacksonville. Serendipitously, when these leaders of Florida Mining and nullspace consulted for this upcoming show, they all came up with the same spiritually stimulating artist for their first endeavor: Savannah-based artist Marcus Kenney.
“The nullspace owners see what I see,” Williams says. “We have similar goals and sensibilities, and hope to bring regional Masters students, emerging artists and university/college faculty to Jacksonville to show their work and even pair them with emerging Jacksonville artists. [It should] bring a higher level of art to the visiting public and increase attendance for openings,” says Creegan of the new collaboration.
“Florida Mining offers project space designed with artists in mind, which gives a show unlimited opportunities,” says Jefree Shalev of nullspace. “The gallery’s design is part of the art, as the lighting enhances the space and the large wall in the center offers lots of opportunities.”
Florida Mining is located inside Harbinger, the internationally known, family-owned sign company of which Williams is president. Its goal is to provide a venue to foster a vibrant art community and to create an environment to inspire and create conversation, thus expanding the cultural inventory of art in the region.
nullspace, formerly a small, experimental, aesthetically created gallery located downtown, has re-emerged into what Creegan agrees is a new kind of for-profit “mobile” or “free-range” art force with no permanent site at the moment, but one that has an energetic collaborative spirit to work with entrepreneurs like Williams.
Together, they intend to foster a vibrant artistic community and stimulate conversation between artists and patrons in what some call an evolving area in Jacksonville, as Florida Mining is located on Shad Road between Phillips Highway and SR 13.
“With Marcus Kenney on exhibit, we’ll begin a community conversation that is long-lasting and thought-provoking,” states Williams. Kenney’s assembled totems and markers create mythological concepts that demand curiosity and a closer look within the quilted fabrics and shadows created by steel pins, colored darts, amid thousands of jewels and glimmering pearls, relics and recognizable bygone eras of wearable items juxtaposed within his multi-media sculpture, featuring skin reborn on domestic animal mounts as kitsch fantastical outerwear. Coupled with these sculptures, the show features Kenney’s photography subjects presented in a laser-focused, yet gentle manner. Pieces in this show range from $1k-16k.
All expressions of this hard-working, SCAD-trained artist are the result of Kenney living the dream of balancing his work and family. A Southern artist with born-and-bred roots in Louisiana, his work is known for using many mediums, including collage, sculpture, paint, photography and installation. He has exhibited in New York, London, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Paris, New Orleans, St. Louis – and, now, Jacksonville. His extraordinary pieces can be found in private and public collections throughout the world. Each elicits the visitor to explore new ideas and push boundaries of the formality of art into the realm of the unknown. Experimental in nature, it creates a multi-platform of visuals to delight and challenge the viewer’s response. Each is a conversation piece that immediately engages the viewer and represents great depth of creativity in pulling together thousands of items into one sculpture. It’s a free-thinking experience as you explore each piece.
Kenney’s work has been featured in various publications, including Art in America, ART PAPERS, NY Times, South Magazine, Boston Globe, Oxford American, New American Painter, Atlanta Journal Constitution and New York Arts Magazine.
Father of a new baby who already has three siblings aged 14, 11 and 8, Kenney received his Masters in photography at SCAD. “It’s been an evolution,” Kenney says. Many of his friends were painters, so he eventually gravitated toward painting because it was more hands-on. Self-taught with a well-honed eye for photography, he’s built the keen foundation for imagery needed for his mixed-media experiments.
“Since I live in Savannah, I started out walking the sidewalks for stuff being thrown out by owners of these beautiful Victorian homes,” he says, noting many of these items reflect the cultural archaeology of what happens in Savannah at that moment. He frequents yard sales, Goodwill and antique shows. “I’m an image-maker, a storyteller,” he says. Interested initially with collage, he becomes engaged and enthralled with the unique and oftentimes spiritually stimulating materials he uses. These create immediate responses from the viewer, as he or she begins to personally relate to the materials. Then, the conversation begins with nostalgia.
His kids are following his artistic footsteps. One son plays the keyboard, the other the trumpet and his daughter is drawing. He and his Minnesotan wife met at Yosemite National Park, and they love family life on an island outside Savannah, where they plan to stay. His days are “regular,” 9-to-5 after the kids are in school. This year, he had a successful show in Charleston. He just finished a commission for SCAD, “The Web,” for a permanent installation in Kiah Hall – two big spider webs and an egg sac – 20’x20’ and 10’x10’ – the sac weighs over 700 pounds. “I’ve always received wonderful support from my friends at SCAD, and I greatly appreciate it,” Kenney says. After Jacksonville, he has one-man shows at PhotoNola in New Orleans followed by the Lux Art Institute in San Diego, where he will create one of his 16 pieces on site.
Asked where his inspiration comes from, Kenney says in the early stages of his career, photographer Robert Frank was the most influential. He also has two heroes. The brilliant Czechoslovakian photographer Josef Koudelka sought out Kenney during an opening in Charlottesville. “I was so honored to spend time with him,” Kenney says. His other hero is Robert Rauschenberg, who he had a long dinner with before the great artist passed. “It was one of the highlights of my life,” he says of that pivotal experience. “Now,“ he says, “my own wheels are turning!”
“I’m comfortable and like where I am right now in my life. I never make goals or plan shows; people just come along to me,” Kenney says. He’s first to say an artist doesn’t have to live in New York to be a success. He lives a simple life, and figured long ago that “you do it or pursue it.” He does it, and does it well. “Just do the work, and all will be good – it’s always about the work.”
Those are the humble the words of a new father and a hard-working, world-renowned artist. So, be inspired, and visit this show. You can also attend his talk on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6:30 pm at FSCJ’s Kent Campus, Bldg. E/Room 112F (across from Kent Gallery). The official opening is scheduled the next day, Friday, Oct. 11 at 6-10 pm; Florida Mining Gallery (5300 Shad Road 32257). For further information go to www.floridamininggallery.com and www.nullspaceprojects.com.
SHED MY SKIN
by JOANELLE MULRAIN