Friday, July 30, 2021

B&O Street Art Project


Artist Spotlight: Kenneth Clemons

Kenneth Clemons is an artist and illustrator from Baltimore, and his collaborative piece with MICA classmate Joshua Olsen features a timeless comic book style, with vibrant colors, bold words, and universally understandable visual symbols of unity. 

Kenneth always knew that he was going to be an artist, playfully explaining that "as they say, I had drawn my own destiny." While he also showed an interest in street art from a young age, comic books were Kenneth's first love, and remain a major influence on his work. For Kenneth, street art and comic art compliment each other very well, and he compares them to "peanut butter and jelly." Both artforms, Kenneth explains, have the capacity to communicate a narrative, and the fundamental purpose of each is, as Kenneth puts it, is "sending a message." To this end, Kenneth feels that street art in particular is not unlike social media in its ability to garner attention for meaningful stories and statements, and to connect with the public at largethis, according to Kenneth, is "the power to influence and inspire."  This soft-spoken artist gently offers a poignant message for those for who do not consider street art a legitimate artform, encouraging them to "take a microscopic point of view, zoom in and see what the message is all about that goes beyond the colors, shapes, and sizes, within a mural." Kenneth goes on to bring up the film Beat Street (1984), comparing himself and other artists to the character Ramo, a misunderstood graffiti artist with an indefatigable passion for his work, despite the naysayers. 

Kenneth finds himself fascinated with the idea of motion and transportation, and as a public transit rider, notes that no matter how familiar one may be with the place they're traveling through, previously unseen "hidden gems" can always be discovered along the route, connecting this experience to the nature of comic book art itself, which by its very framework, conveys a sense of movement and progress. "Even though [the caboose] is not in motion, the art will always be in motion." In this way, Kenneth and Joshua's piece takes a highly dynamic approach to the prompted theme of connectedness; while the caboose's days of riding the rails are over, Kenneth and Joshua's mural restores to the car its fundamental purpose: movement. 

Kenneth's tremendous passion for comic book art as a medium is abundantly evident in practically every statement he makes. As he speaks to the experience of riding public transit, journeying through Baltimore and finding unfamiliar sights in an all too familiar city, Kenneth arrives at the conclusion that "almost like a comic book, it always moves along when you turn the page...the panels or squares kinda remind me of the bus windows, it's always scrolling along, like a movie." It's clear comic bookstheir panels containing sequential, narrative images -- is the primary lens through which this artist views the world and interprets his own lived experiences. In this way, Kenneth is the kind of artist who operates best when thinking within the box, rather than outside of it, and for this talented illustrator with a lifelong love for comic books, there could be no higher praise. 

 Kenneth talks about traveling throughout the city, and seeing bits of railroad track, once covered by bricks and pavement, now exposed on the streets. Seeing these remnants of Baltimore's past inspires in Kenneth a sense of connection to the city's history, reminding him that "B&O was here from the very beginning to establish that type of transportation," and giving him cause to wonder about the hidden tracks and tunnels of the past, buried beneath the streets of Baltimore.

Kenneth wants those who view his mural at the Museum to leave with the understanding that "all things [are] possible within a mural," and to and know just what it is that compels artists like himself to create murals like this one: "We do this for the love of the city." 

Follow Kenneth on Instagram @kennycc31977

No comments: