The artistic process can be full of spontaneous and seemingly fortuitous discoveries that come with self-reflection. “What [eventually] became ‘White, Passing’ wasn’t initially about race,” reveals Brooklyn-based painter and sculptor Kennedy Yanko, the 2021 artist in residence at Miami’s storied Rubell Museum. However, weeks of introspection during this intensely focused program would eventually result in three pieces that explore aspects of the artist’s subjectivity. “My investigation at the Rubell residency quickly became a deep search into how my skin, my body, my face, and the way I’m physically presenting to the world affects me.”
The series of sculptures, which are made from a salvaged shipping container scoured from the scrap yard and joined with paint skins, was also largely shaped by Indelible Fluidity, the graphic novel that Yanko was simultaneously writing. “Despite having a Black mom and a white dad,” says the artist, “the conversation around race was muted.” For Yanko, the process of writing this piece of illustrative prose “spurred a deeper looking and demanded that I make space and time to sift through it right then and there.”
On view at the Rubell Museum through October 2022, the towering sculptures are her largest yet. “I think it’s telling that what resulted was the biggest work I’d made to date, while taking on some of the biggest feelings and subjects I’ve addressed thus far.” For Yanko, the process of self-reflection required to write her graphic novel “opened up the possibility for me to investigate any subject, at what feels like any scale.”
Despite their size, two of the three pieces are hung from the ceiling like delicate ornaments. “I like that my work challenges the things that you believe in within the physical realm. How is this thing floating? Is it soft, is it hard? Is it dangerous?” Flowing, colourful paint skins contrast the harsh solidity of the repurposed metal. Yet these contrasting plays of texture and colour produce an undeniable tranquility. “I’m interested in evoking the harmony that happens in the dualities of our experience of life.”
Miami has provided an opportunity for Yanko to showcase some of the most impressive work of her career thus far, as she also collaborated with BMW to create a piece for Art Basel Miami Beach this past December. She calls BMW a company that “understands how to work with artists,” attributing this to its willingness to relinquish creative control.
“They don’t come in and give us ideas; they come in and ask us what we want to do and then facilitate it.” She believes that great works and meaningful partnerships can arise from such trust in an artist. “If we’re given the means to do what we want to do, we can make miraculous things,” says Yanko. As for what inspires her miraculous pieces, the list includes travel, colours, the ocean, and—naturally—“the space between things that feel different but aren’t.”