Visual Arts

Kevin Hennessy on making folk art and other signs of the time

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Definitely. It sort of translates to the legitimacy of the barbershop because they value art in some sense. That, and it feels like we live in a little less disposable world.

It just makes walking down the street feel like you're in a less artificial, more sincere place. Everything is so disposable -- it sucks. If I go out and buy something now, if it's not recent technology, I'll look for something that's made in the '70s. And something that's made in the USA. Not like now made in the USA, something that was made back in the day. Things that work, things that are nice to have.

I just hate that everything is so temporary -- and not a good kind of temporary.

It's one of the frustrating things about living in contemporary society -- the desire to be around authentic things. And you can't. You look at old illustrations and paintings of city views and you see signage put into it. Or on road trips, where you can see old lettering on buildings in industrial areas -- like an old flour mill with great old lettering.

I wish I was born in my dad's generation, because so much of what I love and consider valuable is from then -- but there are things I can't take for granted, like social equality. There's not enough preservation; it's one of the things that discourages me, that so much is lost now. In these old neighborhoods, like LoDo, where there used to be abandoned buildings, it's now lofts or whatever.

I used to crawl around in those abandoned buildings and pull out old signage. Even if it was just an arrow that said "restrooms" or "always remember to wear safety goggles," it was all hand-painted. That's what my grandpa did -- he did a lot of signs for elevators in skyscrapers in the 1940s. He'd hand-letter the names of businesses on every floor, or he'd do big boards for restaurants or boards for an event coming up. It wasn't just something created in Illustrator in like an hour with a font and some clip art.

Clip art is the worst.

It is! When I was in high school, people were trying to convince me to go to art school. Like, "Oh, you like art. You should try graphic design!" And that's exactly what I hate. And it's just like the buying and selling of the art industry or the gallery scene -- even if you get into it, you realize it's a bunch of soul suckers and phony people.

Same with commercial art, too. I almost ended up doing graphics at a warehouse I used to work at. They offered me an internship; it was like "most of our interns here have a bachelor's in fine art, but you've been working here for a while and we think it could be a good step for you." I told them no; I didn't want to cut vinyl graphics for a living. They were flabbergasted.

They were like, "This is an opportunity! A lot of art students come here." I'm like, they're art students. I'm not. I just want to do folk art, you know? I'm still a student of art -- I have stacks of font books, old Speedball sign-painting books. I do it on my own terms, and I don't do it to get a piece of paper or a certificate.

Kevin Hennessy's latest solo show, Summer Mumbo, is on view through October at Ironwood, 14 South Broadway.

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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies

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