October Visiting Artist: Kenni Field

Philly is full of really cool people and small businesses. I am blown away by the folks, organizations, and businesses I am still just now encountering. Living in West Philly has allowed me to meet folks who recognize my work through friends, the internet, or whenever I post up at Clark Park. I have a lot of artist friends here, so I feel a huge sense of community and a collective come-up. 

My business happens mostly online. Markets sort of scare and stress me out because I insist on channeling Dora The Explorer the whole time. I’m still waiting for the day that recreational marijuana is legalized so I can get into hosting parties and participatory showcases. For now, I do appreciate knowing that many of my pipes have gone to good homes around the city and across the country. 

Q: Can you tell us about your background? How did you start working with ceramics?

I spent the first six years of my life on the Bay Island of Roatan, immersed in bright colors and luscious rainforest. I grew up dancing a lot because we played music almost all the time, and I also drew incessantly as a kid, mostly with a no. 2 pencil on copy paper. My parents were really laissez faire when it came to “interests” and honestly I’m not sure they knew how to really support me as a young artist. Around Christmas time I would get these really technical drawing books that had a ton of writing. I was pretty impatient as a kid so instead of reading them I would just trace over the images of horses or women’s faces I thought looked interesting.

One of my first memories of making art was around the age of 5, during a visit with my aunt Marie, who’s a painter. She lived in this adorable apartment on the beach with tall, broad banana trees planted all around the yard. That day she set up watercolors on the veranda for us to paint, and at some point it began pouring rain. We were so caught off guard and excited, we started screaming and giggling. My sister and I ran around in the storm for a bit, soaking our brushes and painting. It’s a really happy memory for me.

It was another aunt, Anita, who introduced me to clay about halfway through college. Her love and patience for the material was infectious, and it sparked my curiosity. It nudged me to enroll in a wheel throwing elective in my junior year. When I think about that time I just want to cry, picking up the material felt like coming home. The feeling of clay and the possibilities of what I could create with it ignited this fever to make art that I hadn’t felt in a long time. For years, I had worked really hard at being an intellectual and pursuing a career in academia. I grew up with generational poverty and toxic gender norms that I felt this mania to overcome, to be my family’s success story and pillar of support.

I was trying so hard to get it right, but the reality was that I didn’t love and pour myself into the academic work the same way, and I just knew it would never happen. Between my junior and senior year of college I took a gap to figure things out, and bought a used wheel with work study savings. My work and my feelings about making have evolved tremendously in the past 5 years, and I am very proud to say that I am primarily self taught. I’m also a huge nerd when it comes to the geology and chemistry of ceramics, and have experimented a lot, creating rocks and foraging natural clay.

Q: Who are your biggest influences? 

Aaaaaaaah! Where do I start, and who to thank first? I’m so. into. neon. I could go on for days about color and texture, and especially vibrant, tropical colors. I’ve devoted a lot of time to thinking about the poetics of fluorescence. Let’s give a big ass shout out to Mother Nature and her nether regions, teeming with coral reefs and biodiversity. I am most directly influenced by how generously and decadently nature and fellow life forms show up for us. Flowers, mushrooms, fish, bugs, birds, lizards, all kinds of fellow beings are moving through life, popping off and exciting us. We’re just too lucky that we get to witness the show. 

Thanks to my mother I grew up immersed in Black Caribbean and Black American culture, also vibrating with color and extravagance. I feel so honored to be Black and to have some sensibility for how Black people, throughout the diaspora, imagine and create. At the same time though, I feel pretty timid about myself as an artist. I am still learning when it comes to expressing myself authentically, and working to undo self-censoring tendencies rooted in shame and oppression. A big-big influence in my journey with this has been my community of fellow artists in Philly. I love this city and my people here so much. My friends continually inspire me to grow and question myself, and little by little, to let go of fears and doubts in general and when it comes to creativity.

As my practice has developed, and I’ve gotten more familiar with what forms and kinds of inspiration I pay attention to, I’ve come to realize that a major influence for my approach to making is my dad. My dad is an engineer and I was really lucky to grow up watching and helping him build. I got a knack for building too, and enjoy thinking through projects the way my dad might.

Q: What's your creative process look like? 

My creative process is all over the place, and I’m honestly still trying to find my groove. My art practice has seen pretty turbulent times and major transitions. I’ve moved cities, gone broke and scaled up like every 6 - 8 months it seems. Seriously though, I’m taking some time to foster my inner child and reclaim some freedom. Making art is the process that allows me to  gauge where I am as a whole. 

While I don’t sketch much, I often am inspired by a vision, like a dream or a daydream of a piece, and then I start to lay it out from there. Also, I have a habit of experimenting with half baked plans, so I end up making prototypes of a piece over and over before I break down and design the fundamental elements. For example, I’ve been really wanting to make lamps for over a year now, and in my hardheadedness I’ve basically produced a bunch of unusable parts. This is pretty inefficient, but it leaves plenty of room for ideas to evolve and transform. The more I work out an idea the cooler and more interesting it becomes. 

Q: And just for fun, who’s your favorite musician? Do you listen to music in the studio and if so what do you like to listen to when you’re creating?

Wow, thanks, this is a really fun question! I listen to music as much as I can. There’s no answer for my favorite musician, that’s way too loaded. I dabble with music making as a hobby and feel at home sonically with artists like Abra, Shygirl, Kelsey Lu, Cleo Sol, and Kadja Bonet. My soul is crushed by all the artists I won’t include in that array, but oh well. 

In the studio I like to keep the vibes energetic and uplifting, though a little Jose Gonzalez here and there never hurts. I grew up listening to Bob Marley and will regularly blast Exodus when I need some help from the ancestors lol. I always try to keep it groovy, and keep playlists full of Sunni Colon, Anderson park & the Free Nationals, Hiatus Coyote, Sango and the likes. Just a few nights ago I had a ball revisiting some of T-pain and Neo’s hits.

When I get overstimulated by music I like to switch it up with audiobooks and podcasts. I highly recommend Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She’s a Potawatomi ethnobotanist who weaves together indigenous culture and science, personal history, western botanical science, and a hopeful manifesto on reconvening with the natural world and repairing the damage of climate change. And  she narrates the book herself! Podcast wise, I’ve been listening to Behind The Bastards, a hilariously dark show about real P.O.S. figures in history.

Q: What is next for you and your business? Any upcoming events, workshops, or collections on the horizon? 

Me and some really cool folks like Chellie Faroul, Noa Coffey, Isabella Akhtarshenas, and Qiaira Riley are starting a collective! We’re called Sparkle Motion Collective, named after this gorgeous house in West Philly that has *historic* glitter popcorn walls in the front room. It's a beautiful madness. We are in the early days for sure, and the collective’s vision is still crystalizing, but what we’re definitely about is organizing affordable work studios and community centered events, workshops, and classes. We’re a BIPOC centered and led collective, and we really want to create a safe, supportive and engaged workplace for artists of color to be nourished and dream big. Alongside private and shared studios we have a dedicated space to reach back into our local community, for our Black and Brown neighbors to explore and develop their artistry.

In my practice I’m looking forward to working bigger and mixing media. I’ve always been a tramp for faux fur, acrylic, and spray paints, all of which I’d like to bring into a lighting and furniture collection. 

I’m also looking forward to launching a bong design, as soon as I figure out how to properly engineer it! You can check out the prototype on my IG highlights. :-)

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