Some people say a hole is a hole is a hole, and we all have holes. But then, if you go see The Hole Truth at Envoy Enterprises, the gallery’s first solo show with Brian Kenny, you might possibly see the hole truth and nothing but the truth as well as some bullet holes used for target practice. Kenny, born in 1982, is a New York–based artist who moved to the city in 2004. He and partner, artist Slava Mogutin, formed Superm, a collaborative art project that combines photography, video, sound, text, drawing, painting, sculpture, collage and performance. He was recently chosen by the Huffington Post as one of thirty LGBT artists you should know, so I suggest getting to know Kenny. Well, I’ve known him for a few years.
I first met him in July 2009 at OTK Discipline, a truly fun and rambunctious party he was hosting in Bushwick with artist and performer Gio Black Peter, one of his collaborators in Superm. Within seconds of us being introduced, Kenny and Black Peter started doing a series of handstands and cartwheels, and since I was covering the party, I ran after them into the room, taking photos all the while. Moments later, Black Peter stood over my head and pulled his shorts down to reveal a lovely view of his genitalia, with Kenny standing by grinning. As a fearless reporter, it was all in a day’s work. I have followed Kenny’s art since then, and a year or two later my photographs appeared in a story about the New York City queer art scene in the Bulgarian art journal One, along with Mogutin, Black Peter, and the artist Scooter LaForge, all of whom feature an openly gay sexuality and underground sensibility in their work. What makes Kenny appealing is that he combines his art with an outgoing, friendly personality and a sense of humor, and good looks with a vibrant physicality. He’s not the tortured anti-social artist type at all; he’s ready to launch into acrobatics at any moment. Kenny was a gymnast as a teenager.
The opening at Envoy Enterprises took place on one of those sweltering heat-wave days when just walking a few blocks down Chrystie Street is enough to make rivulets of sweat pour off your face. I crossed paths with the ubiquitous artist Bernd Naber, who’d just left the show. He’s one of those people you see at many art openings, wearing his distinctive white-framed spectacles. Performance artist and writer Max Steele was loitering out front. The show was still abuzz, though about to close momentarily. As I entered Envoy, the chic nightlife diva Ladyfag was just exiting, and she gave me a jaunty military salute while I took her photo.
It was very much in keeping with the art on the walls, large drawings on vintage police shooting targets riddled with — you guessed it — holes. Kenny was actually born on an American military base in Heidelberg, Germany. His drawings are intricate, funky, sophisticated, depicting human subjects marked up with symbols, text, iconography, hand symbols and cartoon-like men, some anthropomorphic. The drawings and collages are pleasing to the eye even while they depict a chaotic world in which the familiar has transmogrified into something chaotic. Masculinity, sexuality, fantasies, religion and guilt all combine to make the viewer feel like, “Boy, we are living on a crazy motherfucking planet.” This is the first time the artist has sewed and worked with fabric — he took US flags and altered and reconfigured them. The fallen or tattered stars and stripes are a reflection of our lives in this country. The symbols are in disrepair, and while I liked the flags as a complement to his drawings, given the current disordered state of the world, they could be even more tattered. These flags are rather colorful and newish, more Bed Bath & Beyond than our frazzled society.
After Kenny greeted me, I asked him about the significance of holes. “It’s about accepting my holes, exploring the holes, finding I have holes I’ve never used,” he said. “The hole can be so beautiful in its own way, even if it goes in a direction that I’m not comfortable with.” In other words, fighting the demons within. It’s also a play on the courtroom oath, “I swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Kenny is hoping to reveal a “hole” truth that is in opposition to a so-called wholesome truth, as well as an acceptance of who we are as whole people, good and bad, black and white, masks and the faces underneath. He later told me, “In my target drawings, I literally illustrate these masks, these cliches, these fantasies and memories, the dark and the light all pushing together to create the perfection of imperfection.” He went on to say that as Americans, many of us are marginalized and don’t have control over our own lives; as a gay man, he still can’t get married in most states. Given the fact that they portray disorientation and chaos, the drawings and flags nonetheless have a playful quality. According to Kenny, most of the works have already been sold or reserved, and he swears that’s the hole truth and nothing but.
Brian Kenny: The Hole Truth continues at Envoy Enterprises (131 Chrystie Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through July 22.