James Kennedy was born in County Down, Northern Ireland, and has been resident in the US since 2001. For the better part of twenty years, his primary focus as a practitioner has been the exploration of spaces, structures, and connections. His dedication to that journey has resulted in paintings of a singular intensity with an instantly recognizable voice in painting.
Unapologetically self-taught in the application of media, he has developed processes whereby he creates forms and compositions in hyper-drawings, simply guided by intuitive strategies. Unencumbered by the demands of three dimensions, he has likened his works to landscapes, “sites” where ideas and negotiations manifest themselves in layers of shallow reliefs.
Unsurprisingly, the artist's work draws significantly on his educational roadmap; with achievements in acting, choreography, dance, and later, a foray into the world of architecture and design. Sculptural models act as analogs to the paintings and drawings, and in recent years subsequent permeations such as his series “ Anatomical Fictions “ embodied a cold, figurative, cyberpunk quality. With numerous solo shows to his name, Architectures and Choreographies, Continuum, Thought Forms, Notations, Morphosis, to name a few, he continues to explore the infinite conundrums his evolving language presents. He is currently developing concepts of Habitat and Inhabitant, where figurative iterations occupy his spatial structures.
He co-founded the atelier Surface Library with his partner, ceramist Bob Bachler in 2006. The space was but a few steps away from the Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton and in subsequent years they mounted and curated numerous thematic exhibitions.
In 2018 he embraced the disciplines of printmaking and collaborated with Stoney Road Press in Dublin on his critically acclaimed suite of intaglios entitled Transpositions. He was subsequently invited to exhibit as a guest artist at the Royal Hibernian Association’s Annual edition in 2021.
His work is in the collections of the British Museum, The Edward Albee Foundation, The Ballinglen Foundation + Museum, and numerous other corporate collections; St Regis Hotel, NCL, Mahinder Tak, Sisti Collection, Vivaldi Partners, Nordstrom, Corcoran Group, Saatchi + Saatchi. He is currently collaborating with Simon de Pury on a suite of paintings for the newly renovated Waldorf Astoria in New York.
SPACES FOR THE MIND AND EYE by Miranda McClintic
The paintings of James Kennedy are intriguing, dignified, and beautifully crafted. Formal but never predicable, their subject is space. With training in modern art, dance, and architectural design, he has created a personal language of form and color. Kennedy’s approach is both deliberate and intuitive. He experiments with painting materials, choreographs relationships among eccentric hard-edged shapes, and builds diagrams of incised lines and small black dots to achieve complex surface and spatial interactions.
As well described by the artist, “these paintings address a fascination with essential structures and arrangements, whilst exploring the linguistics of music, mathematics, dance and architecture. Pattern recognition and manipulation are common themes, and involve the resolution of space within my own abstract vocabulary, in essence, solving spatial equations through paint.”
Neither representational nor referential, Kennedy’s paintings are exactingly specific in appearance and endlessly suggestive in affect.
Kennedy’s complex process results in a rich visual experience that is orderly, balanced, and rhythmic. Human in scale, with dimensions such as 64 x 64, 37 x 60, 64 x 52 inches, they are comfortably approachable. The white or black frames and over-layer of varnish emphasize the physicality of the painting, but the forms remain elusive, never coalescing into a single identifiable picture.
The paintings remain engaging because they are based on four apparent and interdependent systems of image making. Their character reflects the unique process of their making rather than a preexisting idea or external object.
James Kennedy sees himself in the artistic traditions of both alchemist and master craftsman. With no preliminary drawings, he begins by covering masonite with washes of acrylic paint. The backgrounds are customarily a mixture of titanium white, medium gray, titanium buff, and yellow ochre. Next, Kennedy seamlessly applies emulsions, glazing, and scraping to build up individual planes. Varying hues, tints and values of tertiary colors are subtly modulated by density of pigment, dilution, and overlay to create a tonal structure across the surface. The absence of visible brushstrokes gives each work an ethereal quality.
Kennedy’s distinctive palette features ochre over azurite, sienna and medium orange over ochre, raw umber and graphite powder over white, cerulean and manganese blues, and gray greens made up of medium grays, green oxide, buff and terra verde. The blacks that provide dramatic incidents throughout the composition are often mixed with deep violet to increase their intensity. These unrealistic colors are used to define non-repetitive shapes and spaces that are, alternatively, linear, curved, jagged, and straight edged.
Knowledgeable about the art of the past and his own history, Kennedy says that the color and blending techniques that he developed to modulate dark and light in his Moodscape series (2006-2009) help him create the “tonal space” that his “systems inhabit.” He explains that “the serendipitous convergence of space, color, and the lines that dissect them, form the core structure of the work.”
Perfectly straight lines are scored (in keeping with the artist’s interest in dance notation) into the masonite, creating trajectories and constellations whose patterns complement, complicate and enliven the arrangement of colored shapes. The lines serve as edges that redefine the painted forms, create architectural scaffolding, and provide directional energy.
Precise vector dots of black gouache, acrylic and varnish are added at the end. These accents multiply the relationships among the colored planes and incised lines, as well as creating rhythmic signals that lead the eye across the composition. The light touch and relatively random placement of the dots provides a relief from the obsessive cuts into the masonite.
All of James Kennedy’s recent paintings are based on these four systems, articulated differently in terms of color, surface, spatiality, regularity, complexity, density, geometry, and tone. Positive and negative space, as well as light and dark are evenly distributed. .
Sum of Parts is comprehensive in revealing Kennedy’s means of handling paint through overlap, scraping, solid pigment, and veils of color. Different kinds of distinct shapes, painted lines, nebulous space, and unexpected colors are carefully displayed, horizontally and vertically. There is little regularity of arrangement, but an asymmetrical balance is maintained with the disparate notations and painterly passages.
Several works that share a basic palette of greys and browns – highlighted with white and black – reveal the impressive range of Kennedy’s language. In Reciprocal Arrangement, the curvilinear shapes at first seem to dominate the rectangular, the lighter larger areas of pinkish tan look more prominent than the dark, light and medium grey planes bordering them, and the painted horizontal lines are more obvious than the incised vertical lines, but, over time, you see that all these elements mutually determine the space Kennedy has constructed.
Multiple levels of paint give spatial depth and color resonance, while glazing brightens paint that is more thinly applied. Dilution Diagram is a virtuoso demonstration of flowing tonality, syncopated by curvilinear silhouetted forms that echo one another like shadows.
Kennedy explains: “The light and shade in this respect are directly proportionate to the thickness of media sitting on the
surface of the masonite. So the dilution is in control of how much background is revealed, and for me that is the most important
part of my paintings....the "landscape," the tonal changes across the surface ….[This is] the emotional side of the paintings, and the application of gesture and positioning of the non-specific foreground graphics is the whimsical and less serious aspect.”
In Flybywire, which is a vertical rectangle rather than a square, the incised lines hold attenuated forms in a state of suspended animation. Upper Level Hierarchy is a spatial construct that is blocked off in the center by five horizontal planks of opaque paint. This work, which was made after the death of Kennedy’s father, is measured and meditative, where Dilution Diagram is witty and Flybywire is daring in spirit.
Telegraph and Blue Print to an Open Sky are the most high key of James Kennedy’s 2011 works, constructed of mostly rectangular planes, thin irregular lines and hard-edged flat shapes. In Telegraph, transparent and opaque layers of aqua and grey suggest depth, anchored by strips of red, brown, white and black spread out at measured intervals across the surface. These are joined and dissected by the incised lines that, in turn, are punctuated by painted dots. The space vibrates with the play of forms in space like the crackle of a telegraph message through the air. Blueprint to an Open Sky – blue, grey, black and white -- is more architectural, with angular shapes and schematic linear elements framing, in a disjointed fashion, a rhomboid of aqua reminiscent of a view from a window.
Retro Rhapsody is bold and expansive in off-key green, puce, mauve, olive, ochre, steel blue, four shades of tan, and eight greys. It has the widest variety of curvilinear and geometric planes, quirky linear details, a plethora of vector dots and scored lines that are curved, as well as straight, going in all directions. The artist says that the painting “alludes to the aesthetic of Art Nouveau,” but it also attests to the exuberance of its invention and execution.
James Kennedy’s paintings are suggestive not definitive. They are not intended to convey particular information, nor look like anything but themselves. Created by imagination and technical artistry, these spaces for the mind exist as independent presences for visual contemplation.
There are many kinds of abstraction, removed at different degrees of separation from external reality. Looking at James Kennedy’s work, I am reminded of a statement by Wassily Kandinsky “Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colours, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential."
Miranda McClintic is an independent scholar, specializing in twentieth and twenty-first century art. After five years as a curator of exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., she moved to New York City and established her own business, Connoisseurship and Exhibition Development.
Ms McClintic advises corporations and private collectors on art acquisitions, management, and installation. She served as United States Commissioner to the XXIV Sao Paulo Bienal, has been on the faculty of the 92nd Street Y for seven years, and directs tours under the name Art Adventures. Miranda McClintic produces exhibitions, as well as writing catalogues for cultural organizations, commercial galleries, and artists.
The subjects of Ms. McClintic's publications are as wide ranging as her practice. She has written extensively on David Smith, Judy Pfaff, Conrad Atkinson, Margaret Harrison, Maurizo Pellegrin. Her topics have included color and abstraction (the title of her most recent book for the Smithsonian Institution), English country houses, surrealist sculpture, bronze casting, and feminism. She is finishing a revisionist history of twentieth century art, RECYCLING REALITY: The History of Found Object Art, and beginning a book on contemporary watercolors.
Since graduating from Sarah Lawrence College and the Institute of Fine Arts, Ms. McClintic lectures frequently in conjunction with the shows and symposia that she organizes, and her art tours. She serves on jury selection committees and works regularly with several not-for profit organizations. As a consultant to corporate clients, she is focusing on Chinese and Mexican contemporary art.
SHAPE - SHIFTING, Mark Morris, Cornell University
J am e s K e n n e d y : SHAPE – SHIFITNG
Curated by Professor Mark Morris
An invitational Exhibit at John Hartell Gallery, Cornell University
March 21 – April 29, 2016.
Born in Northern Ireland and educated at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, artist James Kennedy creates interdisciplinary work, bringing architectural ideas to canvas in a unique way. His projects, including the Morphosis and Architecture and Choreographies series, are built up as layers of paint often conceived as shallow reliefs.
The processes involved in creating forms and compositions are guided by intuitive compositional strategies played out as hyper-drawings, where profiles derived from imaginary plans and sections flatten and layer. The paintings emerge not from a preconceived sketch, but from an evolving negotiation of so many "spatial permissions" prompted by initial graphic moves. Pattern is important to his work, as is craft and the character of line work: incised, dashed, floating on paint. The repetition of like elements, iterations of shape, and scaling of projected objects, pulls his larger works into the realm of murals. Kennedy has recently started to develop model-sculptures as analogues to his paintings.
A grammar of form, reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp's dress pattern–derived bachelors in the "Large Glass," is evident throughout. This palette of shape and Kennedy's method of juxtaposition also recalls the still-life Purist paintings of Le Corbusier. Occasionally, his compositions are intersected or otherwise rattled by the imposition of a highly-colored, alien-like figure that appears to inhabit the painting. These figures lend the paintings a sense of depth and detachment from the picture plane.
Kennedy has likened his works to landscapes, constructed sites that receive and negotiate architectural impositions. They are a paracosm, other worlds, where architectural ideas play out unencumbered by the demands of program or even three dimensions.
SF WEEKLY.2017 THOUGHT-FORMS @ DOLBY CHADWICK GALLERY
Like S. Neil Fujita’s cover for the landmark jazz album Time Out, James Kennedy’s art incorporates semi-abstract forms to express something that’s entirely intangible. Kennedy’s work is less colorful than Fujita’s, but it captures the same impromptu, playful spirit that Fujita’s art (and pianist Dave Brubeck) brought to Time Out. In “James Kennedy: thought forms,” layers of vertical and horizontal planes — almost like architectural circuitry — overlap and cascade across canvasses. The result is a mind walk of artful dimensions.
'MORPHOSIS' - Review ARTPULSE, January 2015, Irina Leyva-Perez
“Morphosis” is the second solo exhibition of James Kennedy in Miami, and as the title suggests, it explores the transitions occurring in his work. Perhaps the most noticeable transformation is in his palette. In his earlier works, color was one of the main elements. In those pieces, Kennedy favored the use of a wider spectrum of colors, sometimes juxtaposing bright ones. His latest works in the series Anatomical Fiction, however are becoming almost monochrome, made in range of grays and whites. Impetus illustrates the concept well, featuring some of those bright colors. While the background is comprised of muted and neutral tones, the first plane and the center are taken over by a bright red figure. Another difference is the inclusion of figurative elements, contorted figures that surely are inspired by his experience as a professional dancer. The suspended characters, half-human and half–machine are surreal creations that seem almost otherworldly.
Kennedy was born in Northern Ireland and educated at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh; the Rhodec Academy of Design in Brighton, England and the London School of contemporary Dance School. His early works, particularly his series Moodscapes, which occupied most of his professional life between 2000 and 2006, show the influence of Joseph Turner (1175 -1851). In these pieces he used an expressionistic style, influenced by the emotional landscapes of Turner, whose violent renderings were a departure from traditional landscape painting.
In 2007 in his exhibition “Architectures and Choreographies", it was evident that Kennedy’s work became more abstract, perhaps as a reaction to the work of artists such as Gerhard Richter. He was also interested in the legacy of Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus. This change can be seen clearly in his series Spatial, on which he worked from 2006 to 2012. The works in Spatial stand out as a result of his intriguing use of space. In these paintings, the artist created the effect of multiple levels “moving” within the same image. Spatial is, in a way, a preamble to Anatomical Fiction, the main series in his current exhibition .
In the paintings of Anatomical Fiction, Kennedy continues exploring space in the same direction, creating the illusion of real depth in a two- dimensional surface.
He achieves this effect through complex compositions structured in several planes. This then evolved into three dimensional pieces, represented in this show by sculptures. This is the first time that he has exhibited sculptures, certainly as a result of his interest in architecture, since these pieces are articulated assemblages that resemble buildings and machinery.
There is a considerable sense of experimentation in his works, especially in the technical part which involves lengthy preparation. He is also interested in textures, which he translates to the surface of his paintings . Conceptually, his work is evocative, aiming to express inner transformation through his contorted and faceless figures. The result is a unique and intriguing imagery that levitates between between meticulous precision and free expression.
(Morphosis was exhiibited at Mindy Solomon Gallery
November 14th – Jan 2nd 2014 )
ENTER THE CONTINUUM /San Francisco 2015 / WIDEWALLS MAGAZINE
The Continuum exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery will present recent artworks created in James Kennedy’s highly recognizable painting style. All the works on display are made in the same technique of acrylic polymer on incised eucalyptus masonite. A truly fascinating fact about James Kennedy’s creative process is that he doesn’t use any preliminary drawings or referential material. His artistic automatism is an interesting thing to have in mind when you stand before his paintings and look at some astonishing, mathematically precise compositions with perfectly layered shapes and objects that create dynamic textures. Alterations between foundation and detailed shapes on the foreground of the painting.
James Kennedy is Irish-born artist currently living and working in New York, whose works have been exhibited and collected worldwide. For this artist, creating a painting is like “solving an equation” and finding a perfect space in the composition where he allows the “momentum of the painting to fall through”. His visual language is widely associated with abstract expressionism although a resemblance can be found to some other movements like late impressionism, futurism and cubism in particular. These admirable compositions are made in several layers of dilution in different shades of gray that are brought to life and made into dynamic textures by precise incisions. While cold and crystalline hues seem to dominate the painting, small traces of the original material in different colors can be seen peeking underneath these different layers of dilution. The perfect arrangement of lines, forms and colors is what makes these paintings the true masterpieces of contemporary abstract painting practices. ANIKA.D
SOCIETE PERRIER 10 MUST SEE ARTISTS / MIAMI ART-WEEK 2014
6. James Kennedy
Kennedy’s show, Morphosis at the Mindy Solomon Gallery is a collection of his latest permeations; abstract collage-like paintings made with mixed materials to achieve the impression of the artist’s non-involvement. Seemingly devoid of brushstrokes, the pieces exhibit a cold, almost cyberpunk quality while commanding the severity of weight in an innocuously weightless environment.