Through August 5
Polk Museum of Art
Having a museum retrospective of my paintings spanning almost 20 years brings up a wide array of introspective feelings – not to mention logistical hurdles.
Dr. Alex Rich, Executive Director of the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, approached me in June 2022 and invited me to have a solo exhibition. Naturally, I was thrilled!
What followed was a 10-month rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows culminating in what is perhaps the highlight of my career to date.
My initial elation quickly cooled when I looked through the paintings I had on hand in my studio. It’s not that they were bad paintings but they tended to be older works and not representative of what I’ve been creating in recent years. My high hopes plummeted and I feared the show might not happen.
In my panic I suggested the possibility of borrowing paintings from private collections in the Tampa Bay area and beyond. Luckily, Laura Putnam, the Polk’s Manager of Exhibitions, agreed and I sent her a new list of more recent works.
What followed was a nail biting period of waiting to see which patrons would agree to loan their paintings for the duration of the exhibition.
To my profound relief, most owners generously agreed and with four from my studio, a total of 19 paintings came together to form In the Eye of the Mind: The Fantastic Realities of Steven Kenny.
The experience of seeing my paintings hanging together in the museum for the first time was surreal, to say the least. The walls were painted a darkish, teal green creating a mossy woodland atmosphere which perfectly suited the subjects I primarily focus on.
Entering the room felt like stepping into one of my paintings. It was thrilling!
What struck me next was how comfortably the paintings seemed to exist together in that space.
I’m not artistically inclined to sudden shifts in direction. For better or worse, the course of my career has visibly progressed along a determined path – one mingling the human figure with aspects of the natural world in unexpected ways.
This rare opportunity to view so many of my best paintings, professionally hung and lit, revealed the common thread connecting them all through the years. The choices and decisions made during the course of my career became more easily recognizable.
It was reassuring to realize that my vision has held true and consistently evolved. I’ve been extremely fortunate as an artist to have found, embraced, and followed a meaningful direction.
In nearly every painting a single human figure finds themselves within a natural environment. In some instances their interaction with their surroundings can seem uneasy while in other cases the encounter appears to be mutually beneficial and symbiotic.
I’ve consistently alluded to the various ways in which humans interrelate with the planet while simultaneously referencing how we navigate our own internal psychological and emotional landscapes.
It was also surprising to see what happens when certain paintings are arranged and grouped in ways I myself might not have chosen. Themes emerge and become apparent that I may not have been fully aware of.
Aside from themes I’ve been conscious of – such as birds for example – other repeated subjects include children as protagonists, living and dead trees, and large or small bodies of water. Why I return to these elements I actually can’t say for sure.
Years ago I gave up attempting to willfully create images that made sense to me in the moment and began trusting my unconscious to play a more active role in my creative process.
To the extent that I think I understand the reasons why I do what I do – my paintings never fail to surprise me. Years may pass before I fully grasp and appreciate my own symbolic choices.
Having the opportunity to exhibit my work at the Polk Museum is a rare and precious experience. Bringing together in one room a group of paintings spanning 19-plus years is as revelatory for me as I hope it is for you.
Also at the
Polk Museum of Art
Through July 15
Seen & Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham
a 60-year retrospective by one of the rare women
in the pioneering Group f/64
Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
Photographers documenting home life
and family dinners around the globe.