Surrounded by talented role models, a rebellious daydreamer spent time with his granddad, a lover of art. He was always armed with pencil, pastels and a sketch pad to draw the local areas of interest and to dream. ‘I used to go and stay with my grandparents in the South of France every summer… probably to keep me out of trouble at home… but I loved every minute of it’ As soon as he was old enough to hold a pencil he was expressing himself artistically so the transition from paper to canvas felt very natural. ’Our history is of creating paintings on a two dimensional plane, I’ve really just followed the line of those who came before me but as the popular saying goes “painting is as a window to the soul” so it takes us far beyond the canvas.’He spent nearly a decade in the construction industry, carpentry and joinery, along with owning a furniture manufacturing business–all the while ignoring his dream. Simon Kenny finally surrendered to his greatest passion–he accepted the fact that he is an artist and quickly gained worldwide recognition. ‘All that I’d pushed back against, resisted with all my effort, all the doubt and frustration, it had finally started to dissipate and I was back on the path I could only dream of as a boy. I guess sometimes dreams do come true’
LSA: You were born in Dublin and now live in UK being based in the seaside village of Dymchurch. It is a beautiful place with amazing views. Is this where your inspiration comes from?
SK: My inspiration comes from my experiences with the world around me: a beautiful sunset, stormy skies, rough seas or the amazing colours I’m surrounded by in my garden and local environment. There’s so much to take from nature and the ever-changing seasons which alter the landscape. After winter, the land awakens, ready for a busy spring and summer…so there’s always something incredible to see, which draws me to the canvas. I’m also fascinated by the cosmos with its sheer scale and beauty in a constant cycle of creation and destruction that I find intimidating as well as captivating. It raises questions about our place in it all, which seems to draw me back to the canvas to explore my feelings.
LSA: When I look at your paintings I can see an explosion of colours. It also reminds me of the cosmos. You say that you express your emotions, your feelings while painting but what would you like to convey through your art, what is the message?
SK: My aim is to create work that not only relates to my thoughts and feelings, but I also hope it gives the viewer a message encouraging exploration of the self. There’s an understanding that the time I spend with my paintings is relatively short – once the work is out in the world it’s really for the viewer to decide how it makes them feel, and I just hope I can encourage a reaction.
LSA: And the process of creation? Are there any challenges, obstacles?
SK: My process tends to begin with a moment spent in the studio space doing nothing more than staring at the blank canvas. There’s a kind of switch in my thinking from imagining something I want to create…then I think about how I’m going to translate it on canvas. I use music to tune myself in; it kind of opens me up and then I typically start. I normally begin by adding some texture, creating shapes that will go on to help define the composition. The process of selecting colours is really instinctive; I’m led by my feelings, my reactions to my thoughts…some days they are warm and vibrant, others dark and brooding. It’s all about where I’m at mentally, so it’s quite a cathartic experience. The difficulty can come when I have a mental block – not everyday in the studio is the same, so it can prove problematic if I’m midway through creating a tumultuous piece and my mind goes quiet and calm. I imagine it’s very much like writers block. To minimise the down time and frustration, I’ve learned to work on multiple pieces in a sort of jumbled collection. It allows me to jump back and forth between works as the mood takes me. That’s how I keep producing.
LSA: Is there a piece of work that you are most proud of? Which one and why?
SK: I have one piece that I’m most proud of and I’ve kept, titled ‘Reach’. It was created many years ago. It was the first piece that I felt totally enveloped by, a piece that I felt really expressed all of my feelings and hopes about creation. So much so, I never wanted to let it go.
LSA: You gained your worldwide recognition almost instantly after you decided to become a professional artist. Why were you so reluctant to pursue your biggest dream?
SK: As a young boy I used to spend my days dreaming of becoming of an artist, especially because I was surrounded by so many talented role models. But as years progressed I felt pressure mounting in school and at home to seriously consider art, to to see if I could be an artists. I fully resisted the education process of learning at school. I often felt shackled to the demands of my teachers and whilst I’m sure they were just trying to open me up to new artistic experiences and to learn new skills, I simply pushed back and resisted control. I was really quite naïve I suppose as I thought it would just happen naturally. I felt my learning and knowledge would develop on my terms.
Whilst I continued to draw and paint throughout my younger years, with time the dream eroded away. As I began working, my career, I found I was painting less and less, living for the wage became far more important. I know now there was also a confidence issue, as I seriously lacked belief in my abilities. But I think it also came from a need to do something instantly productive that could definitely be good at. I spent nearly a decade in the construction industry, moving towards carpentry and joinery, then on to my own furniture manufacturing business. But something unexpected happened, as this is when I rediscovered my love of art. As I designed the furniture I realised I wanted to keep flexing that creative muscle that had become so overshadowed. I went out, bought some materials and dived deep into painting again. With that came a new love…painting abstractly.
Almost hand in hand, the furniture business started to struggle; I was crushed by it to be honest. With months spent worrying about what was coming next and desperate to ensure bills were paid my wife suggested I try and sell some of the work I’d built up. Within few weeks we’d sold 5 or 6, so like the elves and the shoemaker, I went out and restocked materials and was back painting again. From there, like magic, it just took off! Within a year I had work in local galleries. I entered and won some competitions and sold a significant number of paintings. In the following year the work was selling so quickly online we started looking to wind the furniture business down so I could go full time as a professional. We then signed with our reps in the UK and our feet haven’t touched the floor since, it’s been like a whirlwind.
LSA: The dream of a kid came true, that is very inspiring. What do you think distinguishes you from other artists?
SK: That’s a tricky question. There are so many incredible artists out there, so I know I’m very lucky to have gained the recognition I have so far. I’m privileged to have had the chance to speak to so many people who’ve seen my work and it’s really quite amazing to receive such a positive response. To have people open up to you and discuss some very personal reactions they’ve had when viewing my paintings is incredibly rewarding. I often hear my work is relatable and approachable – maybe this is what draws people towards it and perhaps it in some way reflects some of the emotions that make us who we are.
LSA: Is talent enough?
SK: I think having a talent is a great advantage, but it certainly takes effort and resilience to move forward. It is really dependent on what it means to be a “great” artist: to have commercial success is one thing; to be a master of your craft is another; having longevity and to be of historical importance is something else. I think if you’ve achieved all three in some way you definitely fall into the “ great” category, but with so many incredible artists that have yet to find the recognition they deserve, there are lots of unknown ‘greats’ out there.
LSA: Are there any projects you are working on at the moment? Is there a dream project you would like to be involved in?
SK: At the moment I’m putting together a couple of collections ready for the galleries that will open their doors after the latest lockdowns. The world has suffered terribly and I think we will all relish the day we can start to heal and move on to better times. We’re just about to launch my next set of limited editions which is always an exciting time and we hope to be exhibiting again. I’m going to be super busy for the foreseeable future. As for a dream project…There’s not really a project in mind, but I hope to continue reaching out to people through my work and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.
LSA: Thank you so much for your time Simon. It’s been a great pleasure to talk to you. But before you go is there anything you would you like to say to artists at the beginning of their path?
SK: I would say to those starting out–a great place to begin is to experiment with as many media as you have available. Practice and master techniques and don’t be scared to ask for advice. You have to allow yourself to make mistakes as it’s how we all learn to begin with; most of all enjoy the journey and don’t be afraid to be different. The more knowledge you have of your craft, the more confidence you’ll develop when opening yourself to new experiences, new learning opportunities.
Interview by Agnieszka Kowalczewska
website is: https://www.simonkennyart.com/