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In the 'Waiting Room' with Marcus Kenney
Savannah-based artist talks of his recent drawings and curation project during the pandemic
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MARCUS KENNEY (M.F.A., Savannah College of Art and Design 1999) is a multi-disciplinary artist for the last 30 years, 25 of which he has spent living in Savannah.

During the early months of the pandemic, he spent quality time in the kitchen with his wife and kids, making meals and walking around the local grocery store wearing a beekeeper's helmet as his face mask of choice that he found while thrifting.

Kenney recently spoke of transitioning to a new artist studio, his “poetic” neon sculptures, the curation of the EPOCH show currently on view at Jacksonville’s Florida Mining Gallery, and collections of works on paper called The Waiting Room.

“I titled this series The Waiting Room to illustrate this time in our culture and the emotions we are all enduring and the feeling of patiently sitting in a waiting room. Within the drawings, I am trying to capture that anxiety-filled tension that one has while waiting in a doctor’s office, expecting to be diagnosed with some dreadful problem and using that as a metaphor for the way our entire country or the world for that matter, is experiencing the COVID pandemic,” Kenney said.

“I’m the type of artist that has my hands and thoughts in multiple places at once. I create sculpture, photography, drawings, and paintings. I'm sure if you ask ten different people what type of work Marcus makes, you would likely get ten different responses. Some may recall neon, while others would say photography or collage. The one thing that is consistent within my work is the narrative and the use of objects in a poetic manner,” says Kenney.

Kenney grew up around Louisiana boat culture with his grandfather and uncle, who were both commercial fishermen. Boat culture, the Lowcountry, and Cajun culture are reflected in his neon sculptural art that he created for the past four years.

While touring the Georgia coastline on a shrimp boat with the environmental organization One Hundred Miles, he brought back a 13-foot cypress log for his sculpture entitled National Park.

- photo by Marcus Kenney

“I created a body of work that combined and reflected on my Cajun culture of Louisiana and my adult home of the Lowcountry. Most of the sculptures are nautical-based and include cast nets, fishing nets, crab traps, and other items associated with fishing and the water,” Kenney said. “ I incorporated well-worn and time-ridden objects that spoke to me of my childhood on the bayou, and also of my life living on a marsh island in Georgia by adding the eye-catching allure of neon lights to my object-based constructions I had been making for decades; my storytelling was able to evolve into to a more modernistic approach.”

Kenney’s latest project during the pandemic has been curating the show EPOCH at Florida Mining Gallery. The exhibition features five Savannah-based artists − Emily Earl, Sharon Norwood, Cedric Smith, Todd Schroeder, and Betsy Cain − as well as nine other artists from around the Southeast, including Dustin Harewood, Coulter Fussell, Jason John, Jeremiah Jossim, JJ Faircloth, Malc Jackson, Michi Meko, Russ Noto, and Russell Maycumber.

“I wanted to highlight other artists. I enjoyed putting the show together and the act of installing the works. It was a lot like creating my own art, but instead of collaging materials, I used others’ works to make the statement,” Kenney said.

Schroeder recalls how he became involved in the EPOCH exhibit.

“Marcus approached me about the EPOCH show, knowing about my series of work on pages of The New York Times. This had been a weekly practice for me − started sometime after the 2016 election − of blowing paint through a mouth atomizer onto chosen pages initially as a reactionary expression of protest,” Schroeder said.

Cain’s artworks exhibited in EPOCH have multiple connections to Savannah.

“I am deeply engaged with the color of indigo. Not only for its historical stain on Savannah as a plantation crop, but also its evocation of the deep night and deep sea,” says Cain.

“Betsy Cain’s work included in EPOCH are these beautiful indigo silhouettes of dripping paint. These two pieces spoke to truly encapsulate the way our daily lives during the pandemic began to feel painfully monotonous, and also that time itself began to dissolve us into one long limbo. I keep referring to it as the ‘waiting room effect,’” Kenney said.

Visit marcuskenney.com to learn more about Kenney’s work, and view floridamininggallery.com for information about the EPOCH exhibit.