Artist spotlight: Artistic relationships

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 at 9:23 PM
Artist spotlight: Artistic relationships by Zeila Hobson

Narissa Kennedy, a third year graduate student at Edinboro University pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in metalsmithing, is comfortable in her small, personal studio in Loveland. Her workspace is stuffed full of materials and projects, while on the wall next to Kennedy’s chair is a drawing. 

“I draw quite a bit,” she said. “In undergrad, it took me a while to find metalsmithing. I was in drawing, then painting, then sculpture and then I kind of tripped into metalsmithing and never left.”

Kennedy first earned her bachelor’s degree at Wyoming State University. As she explained, “I was very into pursuing sculpture. I took metalsmithing as a required course, and it was like, ‘oh s---, I love this.’ It just felt right.” Her overall portfolio boasts beautiful jewelry, sculptures and woodwork.

There hasn’t been a time in Kennedy’s life when she wasn’t a creator. “As a kid I remember getting in trouble for drawing on the bills,” she began.

“It was a jackpot for me to find the return envelope because it was like a fresh canvas. My parents always told me to knock it off.”

In Wyoming, Kennedy also earned an associate degree in business administration. The skills she learned in her business track have been invaluable to her as an artist.

“My business administration degree translates into the art world a lot more than I wanted it to. I thought leaving business was being more true to myself, but I need every one of those skills that I gained in getting that degree,” she said. The skills mentioned include resume writing and presenting a portfolio, among other things.

Networking, another trick of the business trade, was actually mastered by Kennedy upon arriving at EU and thanks to professors Cappy Counard and Sue Amendolara.

“I came from Wyoming so it was very secluded. Coming here, I was terrified,” she said. In addition, Kennedy had never been to any metalsmithing conferences, something Counard and Amendolara made happen for her. She spoke of the annual Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference that she has been able to attend every year of her graduate studies.

SNAG is a “very big deal” in the metalsmithing field, according to Kennedy. She has traveled to Portland and Chicago to attend; this year, SNAG is in Philadelphia.

“They pick different hot spots each year,” said Kennedy. “I was seeing artists for the first time who I’d only ever seen in books and magazines.”

Counard and Amendolara made an effort to introduce Kennedy to the artists she admired. “It ended up being incredible — it was so welcoming and what I learned is famous artists are just...people,” she said, in reference to these artists being interested in her work.

Kennedy loves the versatility of metalsmithing. “Metalsmiths can specialize in so many different things that I can never get bored. I can use every one of my skills in metalsmithing. All I’m doing is drawing in wires,” she said. “I’m always wanting to learn more.”

Her projects really are like living illustrations, especially her sculpture work. Describing sculpture as her “first love,” Kennedy translates these pieces into jewelry. “What I want is for people who enjoy seeing my work to be able to take some of my work home with them. It’s all based on different elements of my sculpture,” she explained.

In continuing to describe her work, Kennedy next spoke of evolution: “It was very difficult for me to get away from being so literal and illustrative. I think I’ve finally gotten there, meaning I’m getting more abstract. My thesis is really very raw, and what it’s about is watching someone you love hurt and go through pain and being completely unable to help them.”

Kennedy strives to give helplessness a beautiful physical form. A piece shown to The Spectator, one made for her upcoming thesis, connects the head and heart. Describing the piece, Kennedy said, “Even though you know someone you love is going to be OK, your heart says maybe not. [It’s] what we feel can take over logic.”

The relationships in Kennedy’s life heavily influence her work, particularly her closeness with her father. “My work became about my dad,” she said. “He had several spinal fusions when I came to graduate school, and it was really hard for me. My dad and I are very close; he’s probably my biggest fan.” Other members of her fan club include her two children, ages 11 and 13.

Kennedy’s sculpture work also reflects her socio-economic perspective. Initially, her work highlighted the physical deterioration of the blue-collar class, namely “how their bodies break down as a result of the work that they’re doing.” She continued: “I thought it was compelling to see that the screws being inserted into my dad’s body were so similar to the ones he used for work. I was really conflicted about how people turn their noses up to people in blue-collar fields even though [society] relies on them. Everything runs because of them. I was interested in the health of electricians, plumbers, construction workers, you name it.”

As an homage to blue-collar workers and their physical sacrifices, Kennedy began employing techniques used in their professions. An example is the brazing technique she is using to prepare her thesis show, a technique used by plumbers to fix piping (connecting two pieces of metal using brass).

“Brazing is going to be the primary focus of my thesis exhibition,” she added.

When asked what techniques she most prefers, Kennedy said, “I don’t want to pick!”

Artists that inspire Kennedy are numerous, but when asked who she admires, she was quick to say Counard and Amendolara. “I was very excited to come here to work with those two. They are very inspirational to me.”

Of her general EU experience, Kennedy said: “The professors are wonderful; I can’t stress that enough. I’ve changed so much since I’ve been here. I’m so much more mature as an artist, and technically I am way tighter.”

She had plenty of advice for budding artists when asked. “I think that you should never stop making,” Kennedy said. “No matter what you’re doing, keeping your hands and brain working together all the time is essential. As long as you keep making, eventually you’re going to get there.” Describing what “there” was, she said the work then “makes sense” and comes alive.

Kennedy also stressed to “Evaluate your work a lot and be completely honest.” The work she was so sure about, focusing on the blue-collar and her father, wasn’t quite “it.” She had to dig deeper into her emotions surrounding those ideas to find her true intention for the thesis show.

“It’s a real story, but it wasn’t mine. In telling someone else’s story, I could protect myself. I think that being vulnerable and really being raw and uncomfortable and scared is when we hit real moments of why we should be creating.”

To see more of Kennedy’s metalsmithing projects and woodwork, visit her website: narissakennedy.com.

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