Ralf Jean-Pierre enters Coby Kennedy’s futuristic worlds to discover sci-fi demons, manufactured Thuggernauts and racial social control. A former car designer, Kennedy fuses concept design and political art in Kevlar-mounted dioramas and diabolical portraits.
- The infamous Bushwick artists lofts.
Renowned for their vast DIY studios.
Labyrinthine hallways, and endless flights of stairs.
If I can make it to the top of the stairs
I'll meet master fine artist and in draftsman Coby Kennedy.
But that's a big if.
- [Coby] Hello.
- Hey, hi, how are you doing?
- How's the going?
- All right.
- I'm Ralf, nice to meet you.
- How you doing Ralf?
- I guess will do I'll take...
Is it all right if I take off my mask off?
- Yeah sure.
- Okay, all right.
- Yeah welcome, welcome to the spot.
- Thanks so much for having me.
- Yeah, nice Oshkosh's right there.
So this is the one room
I keep nice and cool, all the time.
- Places is cool it's got lots of elbow room,
is big you know, it's something I've been looking
for ever since I moved to NY.
- When did you move to New York?
(Coby inhales loudly)
- Wow so you've been here a good while.
- I came up for school.
So I went to undergrad over at Pratt
from Pratt I started my first career doing car design.
So went over to Japan.
I was in Japan for about almost a decade.
And then I came back to NY and
from car design to just straight up fine arts
- Is that as big a jump as I think it is,
or was it not that for you?
- For a lot of people it is,
it wasn't that big for me though.
This building was..
I always called it big red, but it was famous
for like people throwing TVs off the roof of it.
And like, parties would get crazy down there.
- So one you're the only person living here now?
- Yeah, it's kind of cavernous, it keeps on going so.
- Back here's like the whole wood shop area,
like there's other rooms back there.
It's pretty cool, pretty cool.
The Thuggernaut is a one eyed six armed,
five story pachydermic beasts that roams
the urban landscape dishing out
genocide and self-defeating behavior.
You have the massive
penis with no balls.
Whoever made him, gave him a huge penis
and a butt hole so that you know,
there's false sense of masculinity
but didn't give any balls because he could revolt
against his creators and gave him one asshole
so that he always knew that if he got too far,
he could be fucked into submission.
So everything I do, these, everything in here, really
it comes from these different narratives
that I'm working on.
That take contemporary, aesthetics, contemporary themes.
And a lot of them are the way that I see
the contemporary world.
- Gosh, like you have these big hanging pieces
which are pretty much the first thing you see walking in
what kind of materials are you working with?
Feels like there's like a mixture
of like a lot of metals, which
I learned somebody told me that's also an organic material
but you get like metals,
and then it seems like there's like, I don't know
what like even in this piece what's
happening in terms of material?
- It's so cool, 'cause you're working with molten material
and then all the stuff that this planet was made of,
you know like stuff that universes are made of you know
like molten dripping, hot base metals and like elements.
It's a lot of fun to have that in your hands,
like it's this weird power thing, you know, like creation
that kind of thing.
- Yes, yes.
- And it didn't hit me until halfway through the series
or the work that I was making an autobiographical work.
It was about the civil war almost like
Capulets and Montague's of my family,
you know, one side not understanding the other side
and the other side hating the other side
for their lightness and all that.
And that's where this project came out of,
it's called "In The Service Of A Villain"
takes place in planet Brooklyn
is essentially a civil war between dark-skinned
and light-skinned black folks.
So it's exploring that colorism
thing that a lot of people don't talk about these days.
But it's still prevalent everywhere I go, you know
in the future, people talk
about we're going to get rid of racism.
We got to evolve a lot more 'cause in the future
even when everybody's a shade of brown, you know
they're going to be, it's going to be like the mahoganies
versus the burnt umbers you know what I mean?
It's going to to be something.
We're really good at finding reasons to kill each other.
- It's like, you're
in so many senses world-building I feel like that's a term
that's used a lot now.
Like in all kinds of things, but especially like video games
and fantasy and stuff but you're like literally taking
materials and building worlds to tell grand stories.
And those stories are like, so personal.
- Like this right here you have
a lot of what's going on in America.
You have the people running things.
They're introducing the Thuggernaut
to the black population.
Six handed dude, cross, rings, gold, wealth, attainment,
bottle of Kombucha in one hand,
a bottle of Colt 45 in the other.
- [Ralf] Wow.
- [Coby] You got Hotep over here, just mesmerized
like there's meaning in this, you got like sinful,
you know sensual like addict over there,
just digging into it.
- [Ralf] I feel like talking to you is just like
the realization of like, I grew up with '80's
and '90's comic books like that Rob Liefeld
image, Marvel, like, you know just like
chunky weaponry and like, I totally
- You know, I was designing concept cars for Honda
a bunch of other companies I was you know,
coming up in and this is the early days
my first job out of college and all this other stuff.
And I soon realized later on that,
it's just an industry.
You know, we're not really trying to get to the future.
We're just trying to...
There's something people want
and we're there to facilitate it.
We're not there to show them new things,
"Hey, come this way."
And even when we do it gets dumbed down
to the point where like by the time it's released
it gets dumbed down to the lowest common denominator
'cause it's got to make money.
Like these books here that changed my life,
films that changed my life, events, you know.
And I wanted to give that,
that's why I jumped into fine arts.
I mean fine arts as an industry, galleries
dues, prices, blah, blah, blah, all this,
the industry of it.
And so I jumped into that because it felt like
a more pure and accessible way to influence
people on a broad scale.
- You use the term industry though,
I'm so interested in your perspective, is it difficult,
is it easy?
Is there a politics or a finesse to it?
How do you then turn that into industry
and to a way to make your living?
- So let me tell you why I hate the shit out of fine arts.
So what had happened was two years ago, I started realizing
that so much of the art circles that I was shooting for,
were devoid of any form of creativity.
I mean, it was worse than industrial design.
You know, it was like, not only were we cogs in the machine
making the work for
the people that we're collecting,
but it was a fixed game.
Like they fixed the stats, you know
it's like the people that were collecting
were being told what to collect by the gatekeepers.
And then the gatekeepers are giving them that stuff,
and they still do it now.
Up here you have "Auntie J" so that's like aunt Jemima
disciplining a baby Thuggernaut.
- [Ralf] I feel your empathy, also even for this character
my heart, is breaking that you have this vision
that you can see this so clearly,
and you're trying to
- [Coby] The shit hurts, and that's the thing,
you know like somebody did this,
they brainwashed these people.
You know what I mean, they didn't just happen
to be like this.
Thug - thug - thug
So you know, somebody was up here handing out their version
of reality and like "You go follow this."
Better living through "cyborgization"
for the contemporary Negro.
- [Ralf] Wow.
- [Coby] So it's like, I started with spines and backbones
because like black folks backs have been broken
over the last couple of centuries.
So this is to repair it you know,
but this basically rebuilding the broken spines
of colored folk.
- Wow, so and this is a piece of metal
and then what's happening in the center?
- Yeah, so I use a lot of the methods that we use back
in car design.
Like this is automotive modeling clay that you heat up
and you can
super hard, you can get crazy
controlled surfaces with it, you know what I mean?
Aint come in and just go over and over
and get like super smooth, super articulated, like surfaces
like car design surfaces that they actually
take molds off of.
So I use that, I'm going to take molds
a bulletproof ballistic grade Kevlar
And so the end piece is going to be bulletproof Kevlar
capped in by these shoulder plates, these back plates.
And oh, check this out.
These are the original designs for them.
like lots of different variations on the theme,
you know, variations on the spine.
- You're concept designing the way
they would like in a movie or a video game
it almost seems like you're story-boarding
as well like, and you're also are painting
it's like such a huge
- What we were talking about before,
this is what frustrates me so much 'cause you know
I have lots of people come through the studio.
I've had like top
curators for institutions come through, dealers,
yada, yada, this and that.
All deep within certain parts of the industry.
And it's so frustrating that
a lot of people can bring
so much baggage towards other aesthetics
and elements that they don't even see it as art.
Yeah like this one up top,
they were looking at that.
They were like, "Yeah, it feels like concept art."
I was like, "Yeah."
And they're like, "It's a little concept arty."
I was like, "Yeah."
And they were like, "You know, it's not really."
They've basically try not to say, that's not really art.
For the lockdown I've been trying to...
I stopped trying to crank stuff out.
And I started focusing on figuring out who the fuck I am.
You know, especially since now there's a different world.
And it's great because this Covid time...
This lockdown time has given me the chance to quit
a lot of these art circles that I was shooting for.
I'm going back to a lot of what got me to
point, where it's my motto
ever since I was seven is make cool shit.
So that's all I'm doing
- What is the piece here if any, that is closest reflecting
where you are right now in terms of like-
- This one right here, this is the adventures
well, the "Unofficial Adventures of Jim Crow
in the Third Millennium".
Racist white folks and moderately racist white folks
just decided that we had to die,
and all of the things that we gained had to be burned.
You know, they did the Tulsa, they did all this other stuff.
This is the frustrated, this is the physical manifestation
that frustrated existence, you know?
So there's this whole society of archetypes
that feed into this and you see the horns
and all these characters the less face they have
the larger their horns grow.
- Can you maybe deconstruct this piece a little bit?
That way- - Yeah sure.
All these on this wall are physical and digital collages.
Jim Crow's body is made up of something like
11 or 15 different images of body parts.
And then I gel transfer everything onto bulletproof Kevlar.
I stopped using canvas
and I started using bulletproof Kevlar instead of canvas.
And it's all resined laminated, all of these are.
I acrylic gel it and then take the image I've made
put it on there and then rip all the paper off,
and the acrylic gel sucks all the ink out of the paper.
And so what you're looking at right here
is not paper or canvas or anything.
You're looking at color embedded into acrylic gel.
I think it's dope that you're literally looking
at acrylic gel that just sucked
the color off
of something that you made.
I chose Kevlar because in my neighborhoods
back in DC, in the '80s
right after crack,
you know like you started seeing people actually,
you know wrapping bulletproof vests.
As part of my fear and part of my stuff
that traumatized me as a kid,
all this kind of stuff, you know.
It adds a whole 'nother level to the work itself,
you know, a whole 'nother like protective kind of thing.
It's like protecting,
it's kind of like protecting my people.
Or at least protecting our future.
- [Ralf] Exploitation, industry, violence,
science fiction, fever dreams of serpentine
super-villains and God-like anti heroes
visiting Coby is a breathtaking reminder
that an artist does more than just draw and paint.
They minister to the tribe,
they describe the terrible monster.
They channel the spirits.
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