ARTIST INTERVIEW: Desmond Kenny
"I think art is a kind of a magic. You wait and wait until you see that magical moment. Sometimes its just ordinary people doing their ordinary chores, but an artist can find the extraordinary in the ordinary and I always try to bring my street scenes alive. ”.
Des Kenny, April 2003.
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Desmond Kenny in conversation with Nicola Murphy in April 2003 as he started his residency in Draíocht's Artists Studio .
Local artist, Desmond Kenny commenced as Artist in Residence at Draíocht in April 2003.
Des, who lives in Hartstown with his wife Lucy and 2 children, Hazel (21) and Jean (18), is a self taught painter who has been painting and exhibiting in Ireland and abroad for over 15 years including a major solo exhibition at Draíocht in June 2001. Desmond is well known in Blanchardstown and further afield for his lively depictions of urban life, particularly Dublin's inner city. Painted in relief in layers of impasto paint, Kenny's paintings take on a sculptural form as they stand sometimes an inch or more thick off the canvas. His work also reveals a quiet compassion in his observation of the homeless, beggars and familiar street characters who, with spiralling rents and increased costs of living, have been left behind in the march of economic progress.
Desmond has exhibited widely in Ireland, most recently in 2002 at the West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen and the Tinahely Arts Centre, Wicklow. Previous exhibitions include the Toradh Gallery, Duleek (1999), Tig File, Cork (1998) and Liberty Hall, (1997). His work is in many collections including Bewleys, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council.
Q: So tell us how it all started for you Des?
A: I started painting 17 years ago and I’m self taught. It all started while I was recovering from an operation in hospital. I was feeling bored, so I asked my wife Lucy to bring me in a sketch pad. I began to draw all day long, every day. I was out of work for 6 months and in that period I taught myself to paint. I initially painted from home for 13 years and then joined a group studio called Pallas Studios in Dublin city for 4 years.
Des Kenny, Moore Street
Q: You also work full time for Irish Rail. How do you fit your painting into your busy schedule?
A: Although I’ve been working for Irish Rail driving trains for 24 years (10 yrs driving diesels on the Sligo, Rosslare and Galway lines and now 12 years driving the Dart, Fairview Depot) I consider myself a professional artist. My day job supplements and sustains my love of painting. To keep myself inspired during the day, I often open my locker in work and seek advice from the picture of Rembrant which I keep there! My whole core and existence depends on painting. Without it, there’s no point for me. It’s more like my full time job has to fit around my painting!
Des Kenny, Talbot Street
Q: How would you describe your style of painting?
A: Because my art is so personal to me, I don’t accept commissions, only painting people and scenes I know. My present style of painting, very thickly in oils, came about when I took a trip to Paris 10 years ago to study. In the museums I discovered Rodin’s late sculptures, which had an unfinished lumpy tactile quality. On returning home to Dublin I endeavoured to capture this quality of Rodin’s, on canvas. It took a while to perfect! After destroying many paintings, I painted a picture that was constructed with thick impasto oil paint. Happy with this painting, I wondered how thick I should paint it. The answer came while taking a walk around my estate. I saw a heavily pregnant woman and I was inspired to paint as thickly as the life she carried. I went home and painted another painting 3 inches thick in oil paint. Sometimes these works can take up to 7 years to dry. Another feature of my work is the struggle to produce an image which obeys rigorous drawing, yet through layers of paint tries to free itself from such a straight-jacket. This conflict produces imagery which is both innovative and exciting in figurative art.
Des Kenny, Moore Street
Q: Every single painting I’ve seen of your work includes people. Why is this?
A: I am a figurative painter, painting the nude figure, portraits and street scenes of Dublin. The subject matter must be personal to me and I’m always trying to make a fresh statement. When I looked at Moore Street for instance, I saw it as ‘ Aladdins Cave’, something special, so I painted it. I think art is a kind of a magic. You wait and wait until you see that magical moment. Sometimes its just ordinary people doing their ordinary chores, but an artist can find the extraordinary in the ordinary and I always try to bring my street scenes alive.
Time will eventually take everybody away and I want to capture the presence of someone I know, to keep them there longer than their allotted time might be in that place.
As an artist my aim is to make an art that is simple and can be understood by all (the busman, taximan and housewife), that is not a reflection of the artist, but is a reflection of the people I paint.
Des Kenny, Cumberland St Market, Saturday morning
Q: So how important is this time for you in Draíocht’s Artists Studio for 3 months?
A: It’s vital. At home I’ve converted my shed into a studio for myself. Here I have so much more space. As you can see I can spread out maybe 10 works around me and work on them, or use them for reference. This studio gives me time out in a quiet peaceful environment, but I know that there’s an office full of people next door if I need a bit of company or a break. The staff are very supportive and I have access to Admin and PR backup while I’m here, which you don’t get at home in your garden shed! I also want to use this time if I can to help break down the public’s natural resistance to entering a gallery space to view an artist’s work. I’d be delighted to meet with anyone who’d like to call by and see me at work in the studio, or ask me questions, or just to have a look around.
For further information about Artist Des Kenny or the Visual Arts programme please contact:
Visual Arts Officer, Draíocht / Tel: 01-809 8026
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 01-8098021