James Kennedy is one of those artists who “Gets it.”  By that, I mean he hasn’t internalized the “charade” or “game” that you often find in the art world.  He’s a great artist www.jameskennedyonline.com who is down to earth and normal.  I toured Pulse Art Fair in New York with him a few years ago and had a blast.  We both saw through the hypocrisy of everything … not at Pulse … but with art in general.  You’ll see some of that in our chat below.  Enjoy…

“In my studio, it is me and only me with my hands and thoughts; no outer force or opinion is steering what ends up on the canvas.  It is a pure, uninterrupted manifestation of the self.”

MICHAEL: Hello James, your work is very cool.  I love the fragmented, mixed-media works that you're doing.  They give me a feeling that I'm getting an aerial view of the topography of some super cool, arid place.  How do you see the work?

JAMES: Aerial topography is not an uncommon projection on the paintings and although I always work flat as a draftsman or cartographer would do, I do not carry any specific idea in my head of what it is I am about to create. Each work is akin to a self-inflicted spatial conundrum, the creation of a tonal landscape populated with a multitude of shapes and lines which initially appear to have no relation to one another. The solving of the schematic, the balance and allocation of data are what form the painting. It is a non-specific language and therefore, triggers disparate interpretations.

MICHAEL: Your use of color is calming yet inspiring. What are your thoughts about color or tones in these paintings?

JAMES: Color is actually one of the most important aspects of the work; one could use the word "palette," but I think that is being simplistic. I find the paintings harder to compose when using bold color like red or blue or yellow. Somehow, I can't explore the intricacies of the language. Which is why, more often than not, I construct blended fields of neutral tones and then once I feel they all hold together, it's time to address the placement 
of the bolder characters; economic gestures of color. It's as if the precise color and its allotted place really have to be earned and supported.

MICHAEL: The works look like mixed-media strips and patchworks of cut materials that are applied onto canvas. Is that it? What's your process?

JAMES: I have so often been tempted to place a small plaque, "a la Magritte" next to my paintings reading: 'CECI N'EST PAS UN COLLAGE.  C'EST UNE PEINTURE."

Every inch of my paintings are "painted." The panel is of eucalyptus masonite and absorbs the acrylic medium very well. I apply many, many layers of thinned out paint to form the backgrounds and then play with density and dilution on the more prominent graphic structures in the foreground. It is all hard-edge and involves thousands of feet of tape per month.

MICHAEL: You probably should do that to save yourself needless frustration. Despite that, I'm sure people will continue to ask. As you know, questions and interest are better than none at all. Tell me about your first experience with art. Were you born an artist or did you evolve into one? Is your work a joyful experience for you?

JAMES: Jesus. I knew this was a bad idea.  Just kidding...

MICHAEL: Hahahahaha.

JAMES: Hmm.  Artist … artistry ... creativity ... I could start by saying that much of my creative force is just due to a very low boredom threshold. When I was a kid, I would spend endless hours in my room melting wax on coins, dissecting flies, slicing up books. I love materials and exploring their possibilities. Coupled with that was my mother’s devotion to our artistic growth; music, elocution etc. All this eventually made an actor of me for twenty-two odd years and not a bad one, even though I say so myself. 

This brings me to an interesting point; much as I loved the process of a acting, I never, ever felt as empowered as I do as a painter. In my studio, it is me and only me with my hands and thoughts; no outer force or opinion is steering what ends up on the canvas.  It is a pure, uninterrupted manifestation of the self.  Not that all days in paint are utopian - quite the reverse - but even in the hard days of unresolved work, the answer or resolution is mine and only mine to find.

MICHAEL: When you're involved in the actual creative process of painting, what's that experience like? Is it spiritual, emotional, intellectual? What are you pulling from? What's pushing you to put that paint on canvas in the way that you do? Is the process meditative or erratic and mindless?

JAMES: Michael … This question arrived in my inbox on a deadline day and much as I would love to wax lyrical about the beautiful, yet necessary, symbiotic relationship between creativity and suffering, I'm afraid I will have to refrain - simply it's been two days of hell.

MICHAEL: Oh, do tell.  I’m listening.

JAMES: The problem being that the aforementioned spatial equations I create are oftentimes an absolute nightmare to solve and if there is time and space to work it through, all is fine and dandy.  However, in this instance, I had one painting that I worked and re-worked over a period of two days (32 hours) and it departed this afternoon, in a crate, bound for San Francisco where the public at large will cast its vote on my success or failure.

For the most part, it is the relentless work ethic my parents embedded in us from an early age that gets me into the studio. Naturally, there is a consistent yearning for personal and creative growth, but I tend not to allow myself breathing space in the event of compositional malfunctions - rather I work on and on and on through it until the answer presents itself and that is a very weird head-space.

MICHAEL: Just like the writing process for me.  It’s best if I don’t deconstruct it.

JAMES: So to answer your question as best I can, the process is an all enveloping, roller-coaster of emotions and feelings, good and bad, deeply depressing to positively euphoric. I work instinctively and don't have a specific take on where this "stuff" comes from, but enjoy "playing" with media, with ideas and the alchemy of paint.

MICHAEL: Aren't you originally from Ireland? What brought you to the U.S.? How is your life different here...especially in New York?

JAMES: I won a permanent resident card in the 1999 U.S. Immigrant Visa Lottery.


JAMES: My theory is that anyone called “Kennedy” is allowed in anyway. At that time, I was dabbling in painting while maintaining an acting career. I moved to Los Angeles and the overwhelming insincerity and sprawl drove me back home two years later. I moved to New York in 2003 and it just seemed to fit; work and energy and a place where you really can make things happen.  My studio is now in Long Island City and I love that also. It's all about industry. The views of the 59th Street bridge and the Manhattan cityscape flood in through the windows of my studio and contribute to a great working environment.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and art market today and how they function? Do you think NYC is truly the center of the art world?

JAMES Have you got an hour and a few thousand words??? The art market as I know it is a dramatically different environment for an emerging artist than say, 50 years ago.

Everything seems to be more about the sell which if you're selling, is maybe not such a bad complaint, however, galleries who are seriously committed to developing a "career "are difficult to nail. The art fair circuit has also made it a highly-competitive market and much as these events are supposedly geared toward serious art collectors and buyers, I can guarantee that the greater percentage of purchases are made by the interior design fraternity.

MICHAEL: Wow. That’s good and bad.

JAMES: That’s good for gallery business and aestheticians, but at the end of the day, it means paintings disappearing into private homes, larger private homes where people spend two weeks a year and not onto the walls of private collectors or museums. The jury is still out on how art fairs will shape the long-term future of art in general. I don't believe there is a specific center of the art world anymore. The internet and accessibility to gallery inventory online has revolutionized access to artists.

MICHAEL: You know, the majority of people out there have no relationship - that we know of - with contemporary art. What do you think it's going to take to get more people, who may be interested (but intimidated), involved with art?

JAMES I touched on this in the previous question and though there are members of the public who have their heads in the sand or have no interest in art - Scope, Pulse, Frieze, Affordable Art Fair, Art Miami, Art Southampton, Art mRKT San Francisco and so the list goes on - these fairs have brought the artistic mountain to Mohammed and will continue to do so until the bubble bursts or people just get tired of art. And another important facet of the over-saturated market is mediocrity; there is simply a lot of really badly made art out there, but if the hype is strong enough anything can sell. I think I should stop now as I'm sounding really cynical which is not my intent.

MICHAEL: Nope, you’re good.  Finally James, where do you want to go with your work in the future?

JAMES: Profound question sir and thankfully, I have to say that a perpetually inquisitive soul and low boredom threshold help in keeping my work fresh and ever-evolving. 

I am currently in the initial stages of a new series called Anatomical Fictions that amalgamate my spatial work with figurative references. I plan to exhibit a concrete series of twelve to fourteen works next year and we will see where that leads.

My ultimate goals would be to works less and have more downtime. Right now, I paint seven days a week and I would like to amend that to five or even three. I would like to take some time out and return to Europe and paint there for a while. More Americans know of my work than the inhabitants of my native country.  All in all, I am happy right where I am. I enjoy the paint!

MICHAEL: Thanks James.  Cool chat.

Check out James Kennedy at www.jameskennedyonline.com.