Story of Flight: The Fantastic Works of American painter, Steven Kenny

"The Gesture"  oil on linen   30 x 20 in.   Steven Kenny

“The Gesture” oil on linen 30 x 20 in. Steven Kenny

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: One of the recurring themes throughout your work is man’s relationship with creatures of flight. Sometimes there is a sense that the bird is attempting to rescue the human, to share the gift of flight, and other times there is a discomforting tension, a sense of entrapment. What is it about this love-hate relationship? Do we possess flight envy? Guilt?

"Rikke"  oil on linen   24 x 18 in.

“Rikke” oil on linen 24 x 18 in.

Steven Kenny: Bird imagery and symbolism have been present in my work for as long as I can remember. It was only in 2004, however, as I was looking back over my past work, that I realized how deeply integrated that subject had been without my being aware of it.

"First Bird," oil on canvas    14 x 11 in. Steven Kenny 2003

“First Bird,” oil on canvas 14 x 11 in. Steven Kenny

"The Harpy"  oil on linen   30 x 20 in. Steven Kenny 2009

“The Harpy” oil on linen 30 x 20 in. Steven Kenny

"The Egg"    oil on canvas  60 x 38 in.

“The Egg” oil on canvas 60 x 38 in.

A year later, after much research and with the help of a grant from The Bader Fund in Washington DC, I published a monograph called Soul Flight. In it I discuss the history of bird imagery from the earliest appearance in cave paintings, through religion and mythology, up to modern technology. In my art, birds have always perfectly embodied the metaphors for the ideas I wanted to express: freedom, weightlessness, spirit, escape, the soul, inspiration, hope, etc.

"The Departure"   oil on linen    28 x 22 in.

“The Departure” oil on linen 28 x 22 in.

I never wanted my birds to be representative of themselves. This is why, over time, they gradually lost their identifiable colored plumage and became white or monochromatic. I wanted them to stand in for the “idea” of bird.

"The Collar"  oil on panel   20 x 14 in. Steven Kenny 2008

“The Collar” oil on panel 20 x 14 in. Steven Kenny

In my paintings the birds were visible but existed in another dimension. They were a reflection of ourselves on another plane or as ethereal agents acting upon us.

"Birdlady"   oil on linen   36 x 24 in.

“Birdlady” oil on linen 36 x 24 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: You also like to play with confinement and entrapment via hard, manmade objects such as hatchets interwoven with various forms of binding. Does this represent the way humankind is self-destructive? How we unknowingly create our own boxes and artificial constraints, limitations?

"Man with Blinders,"  oil on panel   12.75  x 14 in. Steven Kenny 2012

“Man with Blinders,” oil on panel 12.75 x 14 in. Steven Kenny 2012

"The Hammer"  oil on linen   24 x 18 in.  Steven Kenny 2009

“The Hammer” oil on linen 24 x 18 in.

“The Accessory” oil on panel 24 x 18 in.

Steven Kenny: As humans continue to evolve and develop, we seem equally adept at removing obstacles and creating them. Advances in technology, science, medicine and philosophy aren’t necessarily helping to dispel the clouds of confusion created by human consciousness.

"Song of Memory"  oil on panel   30 x 24 in. Steven Kenny 2009

“Song of Memory” oil on panel 30 x 24 in. Steven Kenny 2009

I wouldn’t say that we are necessarily self-destructive as a species or individually but we often lack the fore-sight and restraint needed to avoid harming ourselves or others. To various degrees we still retain powerful animal instincts that unfortunately can override and undermine all well-meaning intentions.

"The Bark Necklace"  oil on panel   24 x 18 in. Steven Kenny 2009

“The Bark Necklace” oil on panel 24 x 18 in. Steven Kenny

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Is the experience different painting a man vs. a woman?

Steven Kenny: There is less of a difference as time goes on. In the beginning, it was much easier to imbue women’s faces and bodies with the degree of emotional depth that I was after. I would look at a woman’s face and see many layers of expression, almost as if all their past experiences were on display. Happiness, tragedy, calm, anger, disappointment — each seemed to morph into the next before my eyes.

"The Swan"    oil on canvas   24 x 18 in.

“The Swan” oil on canvas 24 x 18 in.

"Her First Glimpse of Hell"  oil on panel   5 x 5 in. Steven Kenny 2009

“Her First Glimpse of Hell” oil on panel 5 x 5 in.

"Flora of the Snowdrops"    2003    oil on panel    24 x 18 in.

“Flora of the Snowdrops” 2003 oil on panel 24 x 18 in.

"The Nightingale"  oil on linen   20 x 16 in.

“The Nightingale” oil on linen 20 x 16 in.

"The Shout"  oil on linen   26 x 18 in. Steven Kenny 2009

“The Shout” oil on linen 26 x 18 in.

But now, perhaps as a result of getting to know and understand myself and explore my own masculinity, my ability to give men that same complexity is getting easier.

"Lewis Carroll as the White Rabbit" oil on panel   24 x 18 in  Steven Kenny 2008

“Lewis Carroll as the White Rabbit” oil on panel 24 x 18 in

"Saint Anthony,"  oil on canvas   36 x 26 in. Steven Kenny 2010

“Saint Anthony,” oil on canvas 36 x 26 in.

"The Lantern"    oil on linen   30 x 24 in.

“The Lantern” oil on linen 30 x 24 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What is the relationship between you as painter with the subjects of your portraits? Do you feel empathy? Or curiosity…interested in discovering what new understanding or dimensions each is going to reveal to you?

Steven Kenny: All my paintings are self-referential. They all are a reflection of some experience of mine or some facet of myself.

"The Mirror"   oil on linen    24 x 18 in.

“The Mirror” oil on linen 24 x 18 in.

My hope is that the subject matter of each piece can be universally interpreted, even if that interpretation is different for each viewer.

"The Wishbone,"  oil on canvas   30 x 28 in. Steven Kenny 2011

“The Wishbone,” oil on canvas 30 x 28 in.

I believe the best art can reach the widest audience if it is delivered generously — in terms that don’t dictate or preach. We often can say more by saying less.

"Figure Praying"      oil on panel  16 ¼  x 12 in.

“Figure Praying” oil on panel 16 ¼ x 12 in.

When I began painting I would begin with a very specific idea and not deviate from it until the painting was finished. However, this tended to make each painting somewhat static. Working in that way forced all the discoveries to happen before I picked up the brush, none during the act of painting. Now, I begin with just a seed of an idea. This allows me to gently guide the painting or follow it where it leads me. This keeps the painting alive and allows my unconscious to continue working as the painting progresses.

"Seed Saver"   oil on canvas   24 x 18 in.

“Seed Saver” oil on canvas 24 x 18 in.

"The Rescue"  oil on linen  38 x 24 in.

“The Rescue” oil on linen 38 x 24 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your style has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci, Magritte, Jan Vermeer van Delft, Rembrandt…Who have been your greatest influences and sources of inspiration?

"The Ruff" oil on canvas 26 x 24 in.

“The Ruff” oil on canvas 26 x 24 in.

"The Miner"    oil on canvas  24 x 18 in.

“The Miner” oil on canvas 24 x 18 in.

Steven Kenny: I try to look at as much art as possible and stay alert to new developments in the art world. I like being thrown off balance by what artists are creating today but I am just as surprised by what I find in art of the past.

"The Shadow,"  oil on canvas   30 x 30 in. Steven Kenny 2010

“The Shadow,” oil on canvas 30 x 30 in. Steven Kenny 2010

My style is obviously influenced by the artists you mentioned but that has more to do with the sheer enjoyment I get from the challenge of creating a believable three-dimensional illusion on a flat surface. My style of painting is simply the best expressive vehicle for what I want to say.

"The Exchange"    oil on linen    22 x 60 in.

“The Exchange” oil on linen 22 x 60 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Have you always painted? Always considered yourself an artist?

Steven Kenny: I have always been creating art but it wasn’t until the end of high school that I seriously considered living as an artist. My father heard about Cooper Union, a free art school in New York City, and suggested I apply there. There was a lot of competition so I wasn’t accepted; but I was accepted at two other schools and went to the Rhode Island School of Design. Once there, I knew I was on the right path. At this point, making art is so ingrained in me that I can’t imagine doing anything else. The struggles and triumphs are worth the effort and each day is a new experience.

"The Law of Gravity," oil on panel   24 x 18 in. Stevne Kenny 2010

“The Law of Gravity,” oil on panel 24 x 18 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What was your childhood like? Your home life growing up? Was creativity nurtured and encouraged?

“Woodman’s Wife”

Steven Kenny: I was the youngest of four boys. There are no other artists in my family but they were always very encouraging. Also, my parents were very good with their hands so I always saw them making things. My mother made many of her own clothes and my father built and repaired everything around the house himself. This taught me that if we think creatively our hands are amazing tools that can produce whatever we imagine. In this way, I feel as though I came from a very artistic background.

"Five Roses" oil on panel   20 x 16 in.

“Five Roses” oil on panel 20 x 16 in.

I spent kindergarten through eighth grade in a very strict Catholic school. As difficult as that was, I have to say that it was very important in my development. Although I am not religious now, the inherent mysticism of the Catholic religion deeply influenced me and is a strong component in the work I do. I also spent much of my time exploring and playing in the woods.

"The Disguise"    oil on canvas    14 x 11 in.

“The Disguise” oil on canvas 14 x 11 in.

This instilled a great fascination and love of nature. So you might say that these three things: craft, mysticism, and nature are the main components of my work.

"The Scaffold"    oil on canvas   26 x 21 in.

“The Scaffold” oil on canvas 26 x 21 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What is the greatest compliment you have ever received as a painter?

Steven Kenny: I am blessed in that I feel rewarded almost every day. People are so generous! That is the beautiful magic of being an artist. The world is so hungry for art and beauty. I constantly meet people who are thrilled to see something new and allow themselves to be transported to a new or unfamiliar place.

"Asparagus Queen"  oil on panel   20 x 14 in.

“Asparagus Queen” oil on panel 20 x 14 in.

"The Unification (Anima),"  oil on canvas   48 x 36 in. Steven Kenny 2010

“The Unification (Anima),” oil on canvas 48 x 36 in.

"The Alchemical Marriage," oil on canvas   40 x 28 in. Steven Kenny  2010

“The Alchemical Marriage,” oil on canvas 40 x 28 in.

I get just as much satisfaction from receiving a grant or award as I do from someone who encounters my work for the first time with wonder and awe, amazement and joy. That makes it all worthwhile and energizes me to continue.

"The Black Cloud"  oil on linen   26 x 28 in.

“The Black Cloud” oil on linen 26 x 28 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Have you ever been surprised by a reaction or interpretation of your work?

Steven Kenny: I’m constantly surprised. It is my intention to use a visual vocabulary that allows viewers to arrive at their own interpretations. I always think of my work in a poetic sense where images can have multiple meanings. As years pass, I am surprised at how my paintings can take on new meanings long after I’ve finished them. That’s the best I can hope for. That tells me that a painting is able to grow with me and continue a dialog. Hopefully, the same is true with my patrons.

"The Legacy"    oil on canvas   42 x 26 in.

“The Legacy” oil on canvas 42 x 26 in.

Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Advice for new artists just coming up?

Steven Kenny: Being an artist can be an extremely lonely journey. The worst thing an artist can do is shut themselves off from the rest of the art world and wallow in their own creativity and draw only from their own relatively shallow well of inspiration. The best advice I could give would be to look at as much art as possible. Always study art history. Keep abreast of the art being created now. Look for like-minded artists that you are attracted to and get to know their work as well as you can. See as much of it in person as you are able and, if possible, reach out to the artists and get to know them, speak with them, find out what motivates them.

The Decoy    2011   oil on linen   24 x 36 in.

The Decoy 2011 oil on linen 24 x 36 in.

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To view more of Kenny’s works, please visit: StevenKenny.com

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18 comments on “Story of Flight: The Fantastic Works of American painter, Steven Kenny

  1. Absolutely astounding! I was very impressed by the work, but also, the commentary resonated very much and matched exactly my own thoughts: “I believe the best art can reach the widest audience if it is delivered generously — in terms that don’t dictate or preach. We often can say more by saying less.”, “It is my intention to use a visual vocabulary that allows viewers to arrive at their own interpretations. I always think of my work in a poetic sense where images can have multiple meanings.” A perfect balance between concept and outcome. Bravo! Deanna, thanks for another stellar selection!

  2. I feel such a connection with your work, not just the powerful imagery, but your thoughts about instinctively painting from ‘a seed of an idea.’ The notion that you are letting the painting go where it wants is wonderful. Beautiful work and a great insightful interview, thank you.

  3. V interesting indeed… powerful imagery indeed as Pam Hawkes says above, and in many ways reminiscent of the work of Dali and Magritte. In broader referential terms, very erudite too– a Ceres/Demeter, a Leda, a number of Biblical scenes/suggestive– moving ….

    • Thanks, Omer. You’re correct about the influences of Dali and Magritte. Apart from art history, the potential avenues for inspiration are limitless. Oddly, it saddens me knowing that I’ll never be able investigate all of them in the time I have left here. On the other hand, maybe I’m just being greedy. Still, the hunger never subsides.

  4. I’m late to the comment thread so I’m really seconding what everyone has said. I very much appreciate your openess in describing your process and influences and hunger to do more than you will have time for. Rather than being a sad conclusion I think there is something freeing about knowing that. BTW, I was struck especially by The law of gravity (my favorite of the four forces since it is both the weakest and the most present in our lives), the look on her face, interested, curious a little bemused about what she’s doing. And the birds, flying above oblivious to her curiosity.

    • Thank you, Frank. As for The Law of Gravity painting, it is signed once at the bottom and again at the top so that it can be hung upside down (or right side up, however you choose to view it).

  5. Thanks for this, I almost feel exausted. You have thrown so many thoughts and feelings of strong emotions as each passing of painting came across my view. I will love to see these again and again at later days in my life to experance it all again, and maybe different also. THANKS and do continue your work.

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