PR intern and journo Chee Brossy sat down with David Kennedy to talk about life, love and sculpture. In this second part of the interview, David talks about how he came to discover his love of making things, and how his childhood influences can be found in the art he makes today.
This is part 2 of a 2-part post. For the first part, please click here.
Gotta Get Outta the ‘Burbs: David Kennedy, Part 2
by Chee Brossy
David worked at W+K by day, and took classes at Pacific Northwest College of Art by night. He was back in it.
But David’s art path wasn’t always so clear. He has an easy-going demeanor, likes to talk shop, tell stories about the freewheeling days of advertising. The way David tells it, he could just as easily have been a geologist measuring the layers of the earth, an oil man in Oklahoma, or an ad-man still living in Chicago (David got his start in advertising at Chicago firm Young & Rubicam in the 60s). The only time David grew serious in our interview was when he talked about Chicago.
David’s drawing of his clothespin rubber band guns! The first thing he made—the bottom one is a rubber band tommy gun. Plus the name of his sculpture instructor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
“I had to get my kids out of the Chicago suburbs,” he says.
“Money. It was too affluent.”
David then proceeds to recount the story of a sweet 16 party his daughter attended in the Chicago ‘burbs. At the big moment—and to the birthday girl’s delight—the parents rolled out a brand new Mercedes.
“I thought, ‘This is fucked,’” says David. “I didn’t want my kids growing up in that environment where your values are all about possessions. That’s why I never regretted moving [to Portland].”
For someone who’d grown up bouncing from town to town, following oil rigs with his father, being looked down on as “oilfield trash,” suburban affluence didn’t sit well.
Plus, David needed to see mountains again.
“I missed the west,” he says. “I grew up on the land. I wanted to live near mountains.”
Growing up on the land was an admittedly “itinerant” lifestyle for David and the Kennedy family. They went where the oil was. David lived in “every state between Canada and Mexico along the Rockies,”—from Montana to Wyoming, to New Mexico and Texas.
And it was dangerous.
“Guys had names for missing body parts they’d lost working on the rigs,” says David. “Good-eye Miller lost his eye in an accident with a chain, and Bald Bill lost all his hair from a rare disease he picked up on a rig in South America.”
Oil drilling was no joke. But it was there that David “learned how to make stuff.” He started with making his own toys—like rubber band guns—and eventually learned a bit of welding and carpentry on the oilrigs. That was enough for the beginnings of an artist.
Cut to the Pacific Northwest 50 years later and David has found his way back to that first feeling of “making things.” He finds time to lose himself to work on a piece and “hammer it, grind it, file it, and sand it to completion.” The most recent work is a the Hindi word for “peace.” In true art director fashion, David is collaborating on the project, enlisting the help of a W+K Hindi-speaking studio designer to help him with the lettering.
“It’s been like a revival for me,” says David of the sculpture. “I can’t do without it.”