IN CONVERSATION WITH KENNEDY YANKO FOR LOUIS VUITTON
Artist Kennedy Yanko – born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1988 – works in found metal and “paint skin”, a material she makes by pouring large amounts of paint, letting it dry, and using the sheet-like form to create new sculptural compositions. The flowing, yet solid result is described by the artist as an “abstract expressionist-surrealist work with an anthropomorphic quality”. In 2019, Yanko was an Artforum “Critic’s Pick” and featured in 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow, published by Thames & Hudson; in 2021, she was the first sculptor in residence at the Rubell Museum in Miami. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums across the United States and internationally, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and in Milan and Buenos Aires.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, spending a lot of time adventuring with my dad, who’s a painter and architect, taking photographs of industrial junkyards, and water, and things that looked like there was life and movement in them.
What’s the first artwork you recall seeing that left an impression on you?
An Anselm Kiefer installation, consisting of maybe a million pieces of glass and metal. I remember looking at it as a little girl, and thinking, “Who put this here?” I was fascinated by the sheer ambition of the person who would think to make an object like that.
Talk us through the overall approach to creating your work.
I spend a lot of time looking around junkyards for metal material. Everyone thinks I use cars, but I prefer the specific colours and thicknesses of metal from shipping containers, gas barrels and broken dumpsters. Once they’re back in my studio and cleaned up, I then start composing the works a bit like collages – taking the metal objects apart, repositioning them, welding them together, painting them, and then adding details. Back in 2009, I began pouring paint onto canvases, which I then removed to achieve incredible bodily blankets of “paint-skin material”.
Tell us about working on your Artycapucines bag.
When the Louis Vuitton team first came in, I shared an idea of what I wanted to do. The next time I saw them they presented me with so many different options to choose from. It really expanded my mind of what this bag could be. Once we’d figured out the colours and style and how to create the bag itself, I was particularly interested in making something that was functional. I wanted a bag that you could use at any event and with any outfit; for example, the handle comes off, and there’s a pouch underneath it, so you can slide your hand and then carry the bag as a clutch.
How was the process of working with L.ouis Vuitton’s expert artisans to transfer your work onto the Capucines bag?
They were super experimental about recreating my paint-skin effect; it actually incorporates a rusting process that takes place using bacteria. They also experimented with over 20 different colour samples, using a spectrometer to get the exact shade. It was an intensive process, which I enjoyed a lot. It gave me new ideas of how I could sculpturally add volume and texture to my own work using different materials.
The Capucines bag is a moveable object, so your work will be out in the public space. How does that make you feel?
I’m excited to see it out in the world, like seeing a lady at the airport who’s chosen to take the bag on a trip with her. You’d never get that with a piece of work on a gallery wall.
Do you consider this project as art or as fashion?