Those of us who have followed Marcus Kenney‘s career for a long time know about his amazing eye with a camera. But most of Marcus’ work over the last decade has focused on his paintings, collages, and sculptural assemblages. Marcus has justifiably earned wide acclaim for that diverse body of work, which often incorporates and challenges societal norms of the South, of childhood, of race, of corporate structures, and on and on.

That’s not to say that Marcus’ art always has some sort of clear social or political meaning — I don’t want to reduce it in those ways.

His recent show Underneath the Hope at Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta recently received a rave review in Art in America magazine. From that piece:

It almost seems wrong to say that Marcus Kenney draws heav­ily on his rural roots and Southern culture in his photographs, paintings and sculptures. The Louisiana native, now based in Savannah, Ga., offers work that is very much an extension of himself, not the product of an assumed esthetic meant to appeal to connoisseurs of the vernacular.

In his recent show “Underneath the Hope” (all works 2012), Kenney brewed a concoction of mystery and magic, but the air was not heavy with portent. His art is, in a word, fun. Yes, he touches on issues of race and politics, and he toys with taboos and transgressions, but his works are so exuberant and even-handed in their treatment that they don’t risk didacticism.

Kenney is a voracious consumer of materials and styles. Skulls are covered with sequins or bling. Tatty vintage taxi­dermy specimens are recycled into majestic otherworldly creatures. Ordinary items receive extraordinary adornments. Blithe dualism is the method of his alchemy.

“Underneath the Hope” was multimedia, but now Marcus Kenney the photographer has reasserted himself in a beautiful and provocative show — Fallen Animals — at SCAD’s Pinnacle Gallery at the corner of Habersham and Liberty here in Savannah.

I first discovered that Marcus was devoting significant time and energy to his photography a little over a year ago after he submitted a couple of pieces to an exhibition that I co-curated with Beth Howells in conjunction with the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home: “Southern Discomfort: Art Inspired by Flannery O’Connor”. You can read more about that show here A couple of months after that exhibit, Marcus was one of several participating artists who talked about O’Connor’s influence in a Sunday afternoon presentation at the Childhood Home. As a series of his stunning new photographs scrolled behind him, he discussed the influence of both O’Connor’s fiction and photographer Robert Frank’s The Americans.

From the official description of “Fallen Animals”:

“Fallen Animals” is a solo exhibition of black-and-white photographs by SCAD alumnus Marcus Kenney (M.F.A., photography, 1998). This exhibition offers haunting portraits and landscapes as well as repeated motifs such as masks, hands and religious iconography that recall a Southern Gothic style. Displayed collectively, the imagery evokes an ominous and poignant narrative that touches on the universal themes of innocence lost, the questioning of faith, and the vulnerability of life.

Widely acclaimed for his work in collage, painting and sculpture, Kenney has developed this striking body of images since 2011. “Fallen Animals” is the first exhibition to focus solely on his photography since 1998.

I was struck by many things on my first viewing of the photos: the complex emotions of the children in some of the photos — as if the viewer could somehow see into their futures; the sheer beauty of the sometimes scrubby landscapes; the constructedness of some of the images using masks and other objects to create bizarre and haunting juxtapositions that mirror some of his collage paintings; the persistent symbolism of innocence; the pleasing forms; the grounding in place. It’s a rich show, one I’m looking forward to viewing several more time.

I own a couple of Marcus’ photos from Mexico, including one that headlined a show many years ago at Gallery Espresso. It shows a dog caught in relative focus as it sprints behind a vehicle in which the photographer is riding. It’s an exhilarating image, with the dog relishing the risky, futile chase, and the blur of the grainy road surface creating sharp vertical lines.

“Fallen Animals” is installed with particular care and beauty, with the large print of “Parish Line” along the back wall facing the door, and most of the rest of the photos arranged in clusters on the western wall facing Habersham Street. Prices aren’t listed on the wall, but the limited editions of 15 begin at $1200.

Marcus Kenney’s “Fallen Animals” is presented as part of SCAD’s deFine Art 2013. A reception will be held at Pinnacle Gallery on Tuesday, Feb. 19, from 6:30-8 p.m.

A few images in the show that were with the press release:


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benney in fire

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