June 16, 2010
Contributor Ezra Morris interviews Atlanta-based artist Kenn Two Four.
Kenn Two Four has been a presence in the Atlanta art and music scenes since the late 1980s. He has run venues, promoted shows, been an integral part of various record labels and played guitar in The Power & The Glory, Downpour and The Weight. In the past few years he has branched out into design work and visual art.
EM: You have a long history involved in music as a musician and promoter. What in your background led you to your current place as a visual artist?
KT: After The Power & The Glory started to slow down I still felt the need to be creative so I started thinking about doing something new, something visual. I had been dabbling in design and I was always interested in record covers, skateboard graphics, skulls, etc…when I was nine years old I wanted to be a cartoonist and I was always interested in comic books, and through my involvement in punk, making records and flyers, the visual side of things was always on my mind. As far as getting out there, I accidentally fell into it, a friend of mine’s band was in need of tee shirt designs and I just said “Yeah, I can do that.”
EM: Originally you went into your visual work looking to use it for commercial applications?
EM: And then you took those skills and eventually started to make your own artwork?
KT: Yeah it was born out of a frustration with trying to meet the needs of clients who really didn’t bring any ideas to the table; they didn’t know what they wanted, they only knew what they didn’t want. And the more shirt designs I did for different clients, the more frustrated I became because I wanted to see my work on something more than a shirt. I wanted it to be a living, breathing thing that people could have. I wanted to get away from having to please a client and do something that I was happy with. I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the work but I enjoyed the process of creating it, so I decided to make my own stuff and see if people responded to that.
EM: When you first started to do your own pieces you were doing prints and then you moved into the paper shadow boxes and now you’re working with wood. What’s that process like for you? From the ground up, what’s your process for creating the pieces?
KT: I have a loose theme that is running through all the artwork I’m doing right now. It’s a storyline I’m crafting, so I create pieces based on what I think I need to further the story.
EM: Is it a concrete linear story or more of a loose visual language?
KT: It is becoming more of a stable story as it goes on. It is solidifying. I’ve created a story centered on a religion and the symbols and their meanings associated with the religion. I’m an atheist but I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetics, symbolism and imagery of various religions. I think it is interesting how much meaning people attach to symbols, and coming from my perspective, these symbols are actually meaningless but believers can get really bent out of shape if these symbols aren’t revered in a certain way. So I’ve created this story that deals with a civilization where certain events happened or didn’t happen, they were interpreted and cobbled together and then presented in a fashion rooted more in hearsay and coincidence and legend. It incorporates mythical elements like any other religion.
EM: So your work is the documenting the signifiers and symbols of the religion?
KT: That and communicating the story of the transmission of the religion. I’m working with the idea of the adaptation of elements of religions that are adopted and interpreted over thousands of years by different groups of people. I’m creating artifacts of ancient people from times before.
EM: So you have this complex frame story that sort of functions as a critique. How does that play into the actual artwork? Do you have the piece in mind and what you aim to communicate with the piece before you make it? Do you go in with the mindset that you want a piece to look a certain way and function in a certain way before you create it? Or do the elements you bring in sometimes dictate how the piece turns out?
KT: I think it is both of those. Like a lot of religions, my stuff is pieces of other elements, cobbled together, so I’m always sifting through different myths and religions and picking out interesting objects or symbols or ideas. I’ll combine them together. I made a calendar based on the seasons and I knew it needed to incorporate crops and the months of the year so I sought out those sorts of elements and recombined them to create a spinning calendar. But because actually creating the design and figuring out how I’m going to physically build it plays into what the end piece looks like, I have to take that into account when I’m looking for elements and conceptualizing the work. How am I going to print this? Am I actually going to be able to cut this out and make it functional? If something is going to be really difficult to cut then…
EM: It’s not going to make the cut. What’s your actual process?
KT: Everything I do is collage work, a lot of it is found imagery, it could be 20 or 30 different sources to create one element, be it a lion’s face or a person’s body. A hand from one place, a face from another, and I try to make the combination as seamless as possible so it looks like it was made all together at the same time. I scan in all the elements, cut them up, modify them, and create the designs digitally. After each element is built I put them together in layers to visualize how the end wood piece will be constructed. Then I screen print the images onto wood that has been treated, painted, and textured using razors, spray paint, and sandpaper, to create a weathered look. Then I cut out the individual elements and build the whole piece.
EM: What’s next for you?
KT: I just did a show with two other guys here in Atlanta, now I’m working on several large pieces for a solo show that will likely be happening early next year. And I’m always creating pieces and making new things, putting those pieces in group shows and selling them online. I’m always working on new stuff so there is a constant evolution going on with my work.
Check out more of Kenn’s work at kenntwofour.com
Photos by Matt Miller and Kenn Two Four