This month, I get to introduce you to Kenoka Wagner. Kenoka is a 47 year old male artist who lives in a log cabin in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his partner of 6 years and their dog Elly. He works in a wide variety of materials and styles. Exploring and forever learning is what drives his art.
Kenoka and I have known each other for years as acquaintances and I am happy to say I have the pleasure of owning some of his art. This chat was an opportunity for me to formally get to know him better.
ST: Hello Kenoka! It is a pleasure for me to take this opportunity to speak to you about your life and work. I feel very lucky to have one of your bunnies - which I love.
KW: Thanks Thom, I also cherish the pieces I acquired from you. It's great when artists support each other!
ST: What is the reason for art? What meaning does art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
KW: The reason for art is different for each person, that's part of what makes it art, is it not? For both viewer and artist it can be an escape, elicit emotions, bring back memories, educate, change perspectives and much more. For me, everything is art and art is everything. It's a connection and expression of all that I see.
If that sounds too deep know that sometimes with art I'm just playing too.
ST: Can you tell me a bit about your history. How did you come to be an artist? Were you formally trained?
KW: My earliest memories are of the smell of my father's pipe tobacco as he would paint in his studio. I learned then this is where one can be happy. I would paint alongside of him. I don't think I was ever not an artist. I enjoyed what little formal training I had, but you are either an artist or you're not. It's not a choice and can not be taught.
ST: You say that "You are either an artist or you're not. It's not a choice and can not be taught." So, how do you feel about art education in schools? Do you think all children should learn art in school or only children who have an aptitude for it?
KW: Of course art should be taught in schools. My Japanese grandmother didn't know that she was an artist until she took a class at her senior center. She had great natural talent. I don't have an aptitude for math but it was very important that I learn the basics. Like football players taking ballet to become flexible and in tune with the body, art is something everyone should experience.
ST: You work with various materials; do you have a favorite?
KW: My favorite medium is whatever I'm exploring with at the time. At the moment it is steel.
ST: What are you intending to communicate with your art?
KW: Nothing specific. Welcome to my mind.
ST: Will you tell us how you came to exploring specific series of works, like your bunnies, for example, and what you are working on now?
KW: Each year, I was using an animal from the Chinese zodiac as inspiration. When I got to the year of the rabbit, it stuck. Make two rabbits and they multiply!
Currently, I've been working in steel; Cutting and welding and grinding. Things are getting heavier. Actual blood, sweat and tears are being shed! I think I started getting into steel sculptures after visiting Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, NJ. How can you not get inspired there?
ST: Tell me about your creative process. What inspires you?
KW: Last year, I was using a dictionary app on my phone. Each day there was a 'word of the day' and in a sketchbook I would make a piece of art inspired by that word. So, by the end of the year I had 365 works. Some were good, some crap, some became sculptures later. The important thing is my mind and hand was engaged.
Inspiration comes from literally everywhere. I'm never not moved, intrigued, inspired or curious. Our minds take in so much during the day. My mind mixes it all together and then I don't even know how it's going to come out. I love to explore new things. Learning is living. I've never been bored. I don't enjoy television.
ST: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves have the view that the starving artist’s image is true. Do you find that to be so? What bearing does that view have on your efforts in an artistic career?
KW: This is an interesting question. I've always had to have 'a real job' to support my art. It's every artist's dream to make a living at what they do. Luckily, my work is starting to resonate with the public and I can see myself becoming a full time artist.
ST: Did you find it to be relatively easy to get to where you are now in your art?
KW: NO, I work my ass off. If I'm not in the studio, I'm selling at a show, promoting my work, or answering questions for an online magazine. This is much more than 9-5!
ST: How have you struggled? And what have been your greatest obstacles?
How have your struggles affected your work?
KW: Life happens, and when it does, your work can be therapy for sure. Being gay was not always chic. I recall having my life threatened many times.
Art was something I did well which kept me focused. It was my meditation. I just got better at it as a result.
ST: Money, fame, notoriety; artists always have something they want. What do you want? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in that and why?
KW: What is success? I'm alive and I'm making art. I have ever changing goals which keep evolving as I reach them.
ST: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
KW: These are just learning opportunities, you know that. I find the right things happen at the right time.
ST: What’s working well for you in your artistic career/endeavors?
KW: Growth is good - personally and professionally.
ST: To what other activities have your creative abilities taken you?
KW: I was making music for 30 years. Made music for dance and yoga. I had the pleasure of scoring some indie films.
ST: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
KW: I produced a documentary " The Spirit of Ghana". The proceeds helped send kids to school.
ST: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “Do you make a living from your art?” or questions not easily answered, like “How long did that take you to make”. How do you feel about those types of questions? How do you answer them?
KW: I'm honest, I've nothing to hide. I don't judge people so I don't feel judged.
ST: What do you want people to know about artists?
KW: This is our living and our work. You wouldn't expect your dentist to fill your cavity for free. Pay for services 'rendered'!
ST: Who is “Kenoka Wagner”? What is the one thing you want people to know about you?
KW: Grateful and loving. (That's two, get over it)
ST: Where can people find you and your work?
KW: facebook/kenokaart. My art can also be seen as part of the show...2nd Floor Artists October 1st through January 1st at NelliRae's Kitchen.
ST: Thank you Kenoka for taking the time to meet with us at Studio Tour Magazine. We'll will check in with you again soon.