Saturday, May 17, 2008

This American Life


Here's a look at Savannah artist Marcus Kenney's excellent new show "Midnight in America" currently on view at Marcia Wood Gallery. The painting to the far right is called "War on Terror (Ain't Nothin' But a Party Ya'll)." I feel like this title gets to the heart of the slap stick funny and forebodingly dark tone of the work, taking aim at the current social state and shaky politics of the US of A.

"Young Americans II" mixed media sculpture 2008

The show is primarily two dimensional collaged paintings along with some figures brought into the three dimensional through the same technique of layering paper and objects. Hair made out of cigarette filters and an African American girl wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the face of George Washington.

"War on Terror (Ain't Nothin' But a Party Ya'll)" 2007 detail

With the high level of detail, each piece warrants and second and third look. Each two dimensional work is a heavy layering of cut paper with paint often added on top.

"War on Terror (Ain't Nothin' But a Party Ya'll)" 2007 detail

The images seem to be gathered from any and every source, from children's illustrations to wall paper patterns, the works are a sort of accumulation of printed detritus, Kenney building up an amusing reflection of our culture using our very own trash - or to be more poetic - stitching together a cautionary tale from the remnants of our discarded social fabric.

"Farewell to Illusions" 2007

While the socially conscious will see the dead canary in the collaged paper, the work remains primarily amusing. This lies partly in the cartoonish style of the imagery and partly in Kenney's choice of using children as the primary subjects in the work.


This focus on kids in discussing the current state of America hints at Kenney's possible anxiety with the future, a fear over what social and political legacy will be left to the coming generation of leaders or perhaps a guilt associated with the franchised culture engulfing these current toddlers.

"Linkin II" 2008

But just as easily, these paintings relish the complexities of our culture, the bumps in the road of our history, and the even deeper pot holes of our current administration. Much like Kenney enjoys an almost chaotically busy tableaux, his intrigue rests in the clash - not disdainful but fascinated by the layers, by an impending explosion.

"The New Communism" 2008

The show is an almost overwhelming visual fest and reviewing my photographs later made it easier to digest. By isolating certain paintings for viewing, the level of extraordinary detail in the each work becomes apparent. These works hold their own individually, as I have seen on Josh's living room wall, at least when his piece isn't being borrowed by the Savannah museum of art.

"Be Careful What You Call Home" 2008

This piece is intense. The food stamps reading like colorful tiles in the background as the African American figure sips her patriotically striped drink, pondering the bleak landscape, laden by a floral print housecoat, and exuding the regal poise of a stately portrait.


While the work is as visually inviting as sweet sweet candy, Kenney gives no easy answers, no place to take shelter, every inch of each panel is shouting it's own contradictory story.

"Defend Boundaries, Establish Validity" 2007


"Lotto" 2008

Someone could write a twenty page essay this painting alone.

"State of Nature" 2007


"State of Nature" 2007 detail

Speaking of writing, Cinque wrote a little gem on this show for Creative Loafing.

"Eye of the Needle" 2007 and "Almanac" 2007

The "Eye of the Needle" was an interest step outside of the insular American issues (such as race, politics, and materialism) to poke fun at the economic ties between America and India.

"Complete Protection From the Hate Advance" 2008


"This is Us (Who R We, What R We, Where R We Going)" 2008

Kenney also broaden the scope of the show with "This is Us," both in scale and in dealing more directly with the manipulation of a historical portraits.

"This is Us (Who R We, What R We, Where R We Going)" 2008 detail

The show "Midnight in America" is up through May 24th 2008. This show is a must see in person to really appreciate it.

2 comments:

Ben Grad said...

Really looking forward to seeing this again

Chris said...

There is another show of his that's closing out this Tuesday (the 27th, I think) on the 4th floor of the SCAD-Atlanta building downtown. All of the work there is more sculpturally focused, more of a play of scale. His output is imposing.