Marcus Kenney is Abstractly Political: Florida Mining Gallery’s Dope Fix on the Future 

Marcus Kenney in his studio

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As a child, artist Marcus Kenney suffered the loss of his family home and all of the objects within as the result of a tragic fire. Since then, Kenney often memorializes found objects in his multi-media artwork to fill the void and create something to pass on to his children.

The Florida Mining Gallery hosts Kenney’s new exhibition Dope January 20-March 13, 2017. An opening reception will be held Friday from 7-9pm January 20. Kenney will host a talk prior to the reception from 6-6:30pm (www.floridamininggallery.com).

“Marcus is one of the biggest names we work with, and it’s one of the major goals of Florida Mining to bring work to Florida that wouldn’t necessarily be able to be shown here.”

There is a sense of urgency and timeliness to Kenney’s new exhibit. Gallery manager Gabe Wise talked to EU Jacksonville about the significance of opening the solo exhibition on Inauguration Day, and the playful undercurrent that runs through Kenney’s work.

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“He wants viewers to become engaged just by the visual, and then once they dig deeper, they’ll see these relationships and these themes that are often times prevalent in the South.”

“Marcus has a very interesting story. I think a lot the artist talk will be turned into his personal narrative. He’s going to take us around the show tell us about each of the works and the relationships between them. The play on words from ‘Hope’ to ‘Dope’ is very simple. It’s very much about play. If someone gets engaged beyond the political and social value, that’s kind of a bonus to him,” says Wise. “You think of a kid who’s just reading through one of his first books, he’s going to be realizing the relationship between words. Play is a very big part of Marcus’ work. The whole idea of Dope is it’s very easy to connect to the political and social situation in America, but, on another level, it’s just play. He’s just trying to see what people will get out of it and get people engaged.”

Several of the pieces included in the current exhibition feature national emblems from the American flag to dollar signs, reflected in textured collages. “Marcus’ work is historically kind of political, so it evokes a certain idea,” says Wise. “It’s inherently political, and we really wanted to do a show with Marcus this year so we thought why not on Inauguration Day?”

Wise says in spending time with Kenney and his family, the bond between them is evident. “This new body of work is definitely a change from what it has been historically with more ambiguous characters,” says Wise. “Now in this new work we’re seeing a lot more relationships between the characters, and, understanding his life, I think the intimacy becomes a lot more apparent. He wants viewers to become engaged just by the visual, and then once they dig deeper, they’ll see these relationships and these themes that are often times prevalent in the South.”

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Born and raised in rural Louisiana, Kenney earned an M.F.A. in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is best known from his assemblages, sculptural and two-dimensional, but also works with painting and photography.

Though he has played a significant role in defining contemporary Southern art through his bold and complex work rooted in social, political and genealogical identities, Kenney is often uncomfortable with the label of a “Southern artist.” Wise is hopeful that the pieces will create a connection to the themes of longing and want, desire and even despair.

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“He does everything from painting to collage. Even when he was a kid, he was always drawing and had stacks of hundreds [of] drawings. Even though drawing isn’t a big part of his work now, his work has this sort of aesthetic that’s based on this sort of creation,” says Wise. “One of the pieces has 20,000 twist ties in it alongside a fishing line and the sort of net a fishing boat would use. There are sequins, fire hoses, to signage and words. Marcus is one of the biggest names we work with, and it’s one of the major goals of Florida Mining to bring work to Florida that wouldn’t necessarily be able to be shown here. We want to contextualize Jacksonville art to the rest of the art world because it’s insulated here in a lot of ways. This is one of more exciting seasons yet.”

Upcoming events include the March exhibit of Jacksonville abstract painter Christina Foard. “She is doing a lot of representational work,” says Wise. “She has really immense goals for her work, and her abstract paintings are beautiful, so we’re really excited about that.”

In May, Florida Mining hosts artist Ke Francis. He is an artist in his 80s, based in Jackson, Mississippi, who does a lot of prints and is well-known for his beautiful, leather-bound books that he makes with hides and paper. “He does very interdisciplinary work just as Marcus does,” Wise says. “He is a very distinguished Southern artist, and he has a piece in the Smithsonian collection in Washington, DC.”

About Liza Mitchell

october, 2021

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