Where geniuses come to connect
and share their masterpeices
Portland, Oregon Artist Seamus Kennedy
Am an alumni of California Institute of the Arts, where I was a full-scholarship student in my senior year.
Curiously, I did not grow up as "the school artist." When I was accepted to college, some friends had wondered if I’d stolen a portfolio. You see, I’ve always been quiet about my work and aspirations.
OF DREAMS AND ANCESTORS
I am drawn to dreams and ancestors. As a child, I ate at the dinner table with those who had crossed the ocean. I appreciated their old world perspectives, and visualized their tales of survival, from bootlegging, to wandering the Canadian wilderness, to escaping prison and fighting for freedom. At the time, I thought I would have the same kind of experiences, and dreamed about adventure.
Several people bolstered my early passion for drawing and painting. For example, my father would often come home with boxes of blank tablets, and sometimes brought in a giant end roll of newsprint for me to draw on.
I wish for my art to ignite a viewer’s imagination, and enjoy the views of the world I create. Thank you for viewing this site.
HOW I WORK
I'm attracted to color and symbolic images, and enjoy depicting how I feel about the world. My work process is, like that of French cooking, with an array of ingredients: impressionism, expressionism, a dash of comic strips, a touch of fabric patterns, and a taste of advertising.
I prefer the quirky, as well as the path less taken. Artists I admire include Francisco Goya, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Philip Guston, and current New York artist David Salle. I respect their courage to go their own way, which sometimes incurred salty criticism.
Each artpiece I make is with archival grade materials, using strict processes that result in strong, permanent work. There’s a fine line between making the best, and destroying a piece of art. I walk that line.
Stories of my father’s father (the one who died long before I was born) escaping Dublin prison, getting in a rowboat with another POW (IRA) escapee, and --mostly at night-- rowing to Wales, where he disguised himself as a welsh miner, is one of my favorites.
My other grandfather bootlegged in his journey across Canada, and was part of the very last continental railroad survey, near the arctic region. The theme in common was of wandering, and struggling to be, and this I can resonate with every day. When you are from emigrants, when you are of the lower part of the middle class, to carry your artistic goals --you must dream.
Perhaps there is little evidence of these stories, and may not be directly visible in my work. However, the idea that a serious adventure could abound anywhere along the way in one’s life --gives great assurance that my art will lead me somewhere big. You know, despite constant cultural cautions, (e.g. “you’ll probably never get a big break,” “what makes you think your work will amount to something important” and even the more sympathetic “that’s a big burden to place on yourself”) such adventure stories continue to uplift my every heartbeat when I am in my studio.
My gumption to be an artist is fueled by these tales.
My father went down to the local publisher and brought home end-rolls of newspaper for me to draw on. My mother would write the stories that I told her in my little handmade books to accompany my illustrations. My sister was always in training to be a schoolteacher, and I was always her student.
Curiously, the support came to an end when my parents felt my artistic goals were in conflict with scholarly efforts --around the third grade. But they had been wonderful to start me up, so it has never ended.
It was amazingly late. I decided when in the middle of a painting critique class two months into my first year of college. And this only happened because the teacher snapped at me “you’re going to be an artist, aren’t you?” I had never considered the question before. I didn’t feel ownership at the time, and thought about it regularly, but haven’t backed down, even today.
First, I start with a series of sketches of related and unrelated images. For example, I might see a refrigerator sitting in a house basement. It is green; the basement is dark. There is a nearby basement window, casting light. Sad place. As I sketch, I realize what is different from anywhere I’ve been, but similar to many. I think and feel about what such a place would mean. Then I paint a thumbnail, maybe 3x5 of it, very brushy, and see if it could last as a bigger image. There’s something about having say ten or twelve of these thumbnails that generates efforts to go forward.
Also, key to my work is to get a good source for these images. If I stick to strictly drawing out the vision, it will look cartoony, which can be okay, but most times, it is disappointing. I prefer to set-up real life drawings and work from that. Many other times, I find sources in advertisements, I screen-capture internet images, and I am often struck by things I pass by every day, and then incorporate them into new paintings.
I’m working now on a painting of a haunting nature that absorbs people, based on a movie I saw as a small child. One day, a tree near where I live became prominent to having the very features I was looking for.
I liked a story that poet Mark Strand once told. He was having tea with a friend, and during the discussion, his friend thought that Mark was taking his personal pen and pocketing it. So his friend asked him an inquiring question as to where pens like that are found. Mark, realizing that his friend was claiming ownership, instead told him of a vacant field near his home where business men in suits run threw, and are always dropping their pens there. Mark then reported that he simply stops by and picks one of the pens up. His friend noted that this story sounded like one of Mark’s poems. So Mark went home, and wrote such a poem.
I’m also intrigued that painters are inspired by cinema, and moviemakers are inspired by paintings. I often see elements of the Wizard of Oz in many of my works.
I don’t work from logic and reasoning. I only deal with emotions and dreams, and I work the painting to be in our everyday world that we wander through --half-dreaming.
There is little constraint with what I ask of viewers: only to stand far enough back to see the whole painting in the view, and close enough to experience the texture of the work. It can be random, when someone sees something of intense value with one of my paintings. But I enjoy knowing that a painting ignited something within them. It is great that a painting of mine gives visual pleasure. That is one of the reasons I paint with bright and intense color.
Like most of the arts, there is no self-policing to what is presented as criticism. So there is a large amount of the worst of criticism floating in major publications. Everyone who reads these knows this. Anyone who opens to such an article can be immediately struck by even their construction, such as footnotes that are themselves larger than the article.
Then there is the open disregard for basic art history. For example, when they made the physically frail paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder briefly available for public view a number of years back, a slew of articles appeared on him. One critic proclaimed that Ryder’s work was a failure because he didn’t go abstract. While one could imagine abstractions because of the beautiful movement in his work, Ryder was set on presenting an otherworldly envisioning. But more important, Ryder stopped painting in 1899; perhaps a decade before Kandinsky, to name one artist, went fully abstract.
For me, the worst is the petty and personally vicious nature of these criticisms. They are often not even veiled in their attack. And there is simply nothing to gain from reading except one, that some critic feels the subject artist sucks.
So, poorly written, unsubstantiated, and nasty, should not the arena for art discussion. But that is too often how it is, and how it’s been for decades.
I suppose that I should balance my comments with enlightening criticism, which also abounds, but I don’t. I keep coming back to the fact that allowing such bad writing to be out there impedes much of my desire to read criticism. Maybe I’m not being fair, and should seek out more of the intelligently written articles.
It would also be cool to have an annual top-ten worst criticism articles, and a top-ten best.
Portland is an emerging art scene, a vibrant community, and yet has the most financially suppressed community on the west coast. I enjoy seeing the art scene here as it unfolds. It reflects, to some degree, the skyline: older pre-modern area buildings next to late modern and especially post-modern buildings make the town unique. Great energy can be felt at many Portland art openings, regardless of the quality of work. Portland has much to be proud.
But for now, I am not a part of it. I view myself as a well-kept secret, which are the beginning stages of emerging.
I write. I work as a business writer, a trainer, and a public speaker. I have a book, “Wee Tiny Monsters” that I am not quite half way from finishing. It is a series of vignettes of passages of my life, often with the theme of great things happening for me, despite my kicking and screaming to prevent them from happening. Surprising, or maybe not surprising, there are many such passages to write.
I also enjoy travel, especially by hiking.
I like Goya for his amazing insight and unflinching effort to paint his world. I respect Helen Frankenthaler for her continuing to produce amazing paintings for decades --she died just two years ago. I admire David Salle for a number of reasons, especially his efforts to elevate the artist’s voice, and I enjoy Georgia O’Keefe because who could not like her beautiful paintings.
For more of Seamus check out his website