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Artists Among Us: Artist Profile - James Kennedy

Originally Posted: November 20, 2008

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"Burning The Chafe" 2007 (48" x 52") Oil and Encaustic. All images courtesy of artist

Continuing with our artist profiles of artists both living and working in the Hamptons, our next artist is James Kennedy, who lives in the Springs, East Hampton.

Artist James Kennedy.

East Hampton - James Kennedy was raised in County Down, Northern Ireland, where his family still lives. Weathering unfortunate "troubles" Kennedy which steered him into "a pretty nomadic existence" since his departure in the mid-1980s, Kennedy's initial odyssey began with a quest to become an actor which took him to London, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, and Los Angeles. In fact, he still performs given the opportunity, and most recently on stage in "Pillowman" by Martin McDonagh at the Portland Center Stage in Oregon early last year.

While under contract at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin Kennedy learned of the green card lottery and, as he puts it, "the rest is history." During his years in theatre, Kennedy pursued his passion for art and design and received his Design diploma. Represented by ICM, with green card in hand Kennedy, headed for Los Angeles in 2001 where the reality of tinsel town bit hard. The result, a "desperate craving for creative fulfillment" reawakened the painter within. He filled the void, claiming his desire to paint and ironically it was this side of his artistry that people on the West Coast embraced.

When did you start making art and what medium(s) do you consider to be your roots in art?

James Kennedy: I think the way I approach art harks back to the hours I spent in my bedroom as a child when instructed to revise for tedious exams. I would, instead, wile away those hours drawing, melting wax over coins, dissecting insects and generally day-dreaming. Picasso expressed the importance of retaining the child within and the inherent need to simply play.

"Conscentric" 2006 (48" x 48") Oil on Birch.

The same applies to my time in the studio at the Surface Library. [Kennedy is co-director of the Surface Library in the Springs with artist Bob Bachler]. There is little premeditation but a kind of pseudo improvisation of the materials to hand and their collision with my stream of consciousness. I am often accused of being overly diverse in my work but I would retaliate with isn't that why you become an artist? To freely address and explore the insanity, whimsy, despair and enlightenment that lie within?

Painting is a great way of working stuff out. I get desperate bouts of "monkey mind" when at 4 a.m. my thought processes spin out of control and I just have to get up, jump in the truck and head to Surface. Action isn't always the answer either, but being surrounded by materials and Bob's ceramic forms, you take it all in and the direction of your day's work often presents itself.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is preoccupied with the language of the generic everything is about the brand, the product - sounds like, looks like. Individuality - unbridled, unashamed individuality is nearing extinction.

I am rooted firmly in landscape - the landscape of my homeland - the landscapes of my inner thoughts and emotions. The exploration of land, horizon and sky have given birth to new dimensions and new media. The surfaces are experiments in the chemical dialogs of media, a kind of alchemy, and how un-harnessed clinical science can create an emotional response in an audience.

"Whimsy" 2008 (12" x 18") Mixed media on birch.

What is it about The Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art as opposed to some place else?

"Spatial Awareness" 2008 (48" x 48") Mixed media on birch.

JK: My arrival in the Hamptons was completely serendipitous - a textbook case of 'right time-right place.' I knew little about the Hamptons other than its uncontested reputation as a Mecca for the rich and famous. How was I to know that I really 'came home.' I grew up on a potato farm on a sandy fertile peninsula in the north of Ireland, where my father's friends were fishermen and there was an overwhelming sense of community and looking out for each other. A sense of self has great bearing on how you operate as an artist. The Springs has provided all those things for me.

How do you support yourself as an artist?

JK: I am fortunate to have several outlets for my work here in the U.S. and in London and Dublin, though I fear that the current climate signals arduous times for artists and their day to day existence. Bob and myself have a stable of clients and manage to collaborate on furniture and other design projects that pay the rent and subsequently allow freedom to pursue new directions and ideas.

Why live and work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?

JK: The sea and sky and the ever-changing light. The challenge of absorbing it, but more importantly interpreting the feeling it instills within you. Where else in the world are the sunsets and 'transformant cumuli' so dramatic that you have to pull over and watch. They are spectacular!

What local environmental or historical aspects of The Hamptons do you relate to that may be reflected in your medium?

"Interaction" 2008 (42" x 32") Mixed media on birch.

JK: Again, the sea and sky and the ever-changing light.

What artists do you feel have influenced you and your work?

JK: Many artists, and for different reasons, Rothko, Tapies, Kieffer, Richter, Turner, Bacon, Nicholson.

What advice would you give an emerging artist?

JK: To thyself be true - paint what you want - not what the market wants.

What gives you an edge (if any)?

JK: Mmmmmh - difficult question - drinking lots of coffee whilst applying polyurethane - I guess that's a high and not an edge. Oh I know - I am consistently reinventing myself that's a major edge. The only problem with working in an atelier and gallery environment is that people often don't realize that you have to get your work out there and have it seen and represented in other galleries. You're constantly having to place your work in a context that's attractive to curators and gallerists.

What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

JK: Working hard towards creating cohesion in the work. The Spatial Series featured here is a whole other area of my brain, but another character I enjoy inhabiting. I have this work with Gallerie Werner in Pittsburgh and to date it has sold to architects and that's not surprising as it's really about making sense of space and relationships, how one line connects a group or family of graphics.

Once the winter hits there will be less painting and more marketing, the reluctant bed-fellow of most artists, but unfortunately a necessity.

"Choregraphy" 2008 (12" x 18") Mixed media on birch.

 • To view more of Kennedy's work or to contact him directly visit www.surfacelibrary.com.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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Guest (karen) from scotland says::
fabulous which i saw in a magazine on the wall of an interior designer work
May 25, 2017 5:47 pm

Guest (Nadine McShane-Smyth) from Dee N.Ireland says::
I have known James for 33 years and have always felt he was amasingly talented.This is the first time I have seen his artwork and I am touched by its beauty and soul.
Feb 5, 2010 7:15 am

Guest (Lynn Stefanelli) from East hampton, NY says::
As with his art, James Kennedy is open, honest and vulnerable. He shares his thoughts and artistic journey in a very natural and candid manner a pleasure for the reader to experience such a talented yet unassuming artist. James is truly an artist, in every definition of the word. Great article!
Dec 6, 2008 4:42 pm

Guest (Barbara Feldman) from Springs says::
James is terrific, and his work is nothing short of brilliant.
Nov 30, 2008 6:35 pm

Guest (Mary and Bob Blake) from East Hampton, NY says::
Your review of James Kennedy is right on. We are frequent visitors to Surface Library and proud owners of paintings and sculpture by James Kennedy and Bob Bachler. We admire their genius and creativity. Their attention to detail, willingness to explore and experiment, and ability to transfer those attributes to art are rare characeristics indeed. Visit Surface Library, see it for yourself--it's well worth the trip.
Nov 24, 2008 4:37 pm

Guest (lynndunham) from Southampton, NY says::
So nice to see this post James. Is this a regular column on Hamptons.com? This is the first I've noticed it. I'll have to stay tuned.
Nov 24, 2008 8:42 am

Guest (ArtistforArt) from Southampton says::
Know James and Bob's work, really great article on getting to know the artist.
Nov 22, 2008 1:38 am

Guest (EastEndArtist) from East Hampton says::
Cool article on a cool guy. His work is interesting and I like the gallery where you can see some good art.
Nov 20, 2008 9:57 pm


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