The "F" List Interview with Matt Kennedy
In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Platinum Cheese got a sneak preview of the huge 2 part show. We also had the opportunity to speak with Matt Kennedy, a long-time La Luz Alum and nowadays Billy Shire’s right hand art pro. After a period of working in the entertainment industry, Matt decided to return to his true passion and continue La Luz de Jesus' creative mission of celebrating an art world unlike any other.
Rick Galiher: Father of low-brow art (How did it all begin?)
Matt Kennedy: Following the 15th anniversary of the Soap Plant, Billy Shire decided to open an art gallery in the newly available space above the shops to showcase the work of some local artists who weren’t being showcased elsewhere. There was a lot of craft and folk art at first, and it widened to incorporate tattoo art, illustration and what came to be known as lowbrow.
Fraternity (How did you come to be involved with La Luz de Jesus?)
I got hired at the Soap Plant on Melrose in 1991 and soon moved upstairs to the gallery where I was elevated to a management position. Alix Sloan was the gallery director and it was quite easily the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I hired Aaron Smith, the Clayton Brothers were hired to hang shows, and soon after there was a whole Art Center crowd exhibiting in the gallery. One day Mel Brooks came in and cast me on the spot for a commercial he was shooting and I wound up acting for a living, which transitioned into producing and ultimately to me running a studio. After 15 years in the entertainment business, Billy asked me to come back to run La Luz de Jesus in 2009. Since my fondest memories took place here, it was an easy decision to come back. I had been supporting the arts as a collector the entire time and remained in tune with the gallery scene, so coming back wasn’t the shock it might have been otherwise. My twenty-year friendship with Billy Shire was pivotal in our being able to work together so well, and I can’t think of anyone for whom I have more respect. He’s the best boss I’ve ever had, and I think of him more as a friend and a father figure than an employer.
Fights (What artistic battles have you been faced with?)
There are no battles with the artists, and we don’t choose to do battle with the establishment. In the past 25 years the mainstream has caught up with us.
Fame (How do you feel about being recognized?)
The fame of the gallery is phenomenal and wide reaching and I’m proud to be part of it.
Favoritism (Do feel it is harder to break into the low-brow art world?)
Great work eventually gets showcased, and the public eventually comes around to it.
Fortune (Are you in the art game for the money?)
Clearly not. If we were, we’d probably do theme shows every month like every one else seems to do. No, we’re committed to raising the awareness of the art that we love, and that isn’t always profit based. Important work deserves to be showcased, and having the greatest gift shop in the world in the same building helps to alleviate the fiscal pressure that other galleries must face.
Fate (Do you believe in it?)
If we didn’t believe in the importance of art, we wouldn’t do this at all.
Frontiers (How do you want to advance low-brow art?)
Lowbrow is something of a pejorative term these days. I’m not sure what it means anymore, but the term Pop Surrealism has been more in vogue for the past ten or so years. I think we advanced lowbrow as far as it could go and then a name change was in order.
Format (What other art styles are you interested in?)
We showcase figurative, narrative work, whether illustrated, painted, sculpted or assembled. We look for a high level of technical skill and unique points of view.
Frustration (What about the low-brow art world do you find frustrating now vs. when it began?)
I think all of my frustration –if there is any– would be aimed at the highbrow art world. That’s a whole hour-long lecture that I’ll spare you for another interview.
Fudge (What is the curse word you tend to use the most?)
I say “Shit Twinkie” a lot.
Firsts (When and what was the first piece of art you bought and how did it feel?)
I bought a original comic book art page from Saga of the Swamp Thing drawn by Stephen R. Bissette and John Tottleben from the comic book shop I worked at when I was 12 or 13. It took me an entire summer to pay it off in trade. It felt great.
Food (What is your favorite meal or restaurant?)
We’ve got an Umami Burger right next door now, which is dangerous (hahaha!). I really love dim sum and oaxacan food.
Fun (What do you do for fun and in your free time?)
What’s this free time of which you speak? I’ve been riding bmx since I was twelve years old, I also hike, sing karaoke, and explore...
False Perceptions (Do you think some people are turned off by the label of being low-brow?)
I’m not a fan of the term lowbrow. It was coined as a way of provoking the serious art world and the whole perception is different now than it was then. The only false perceptions that I face are that some people who haven’t been here in a while think of only the Day of the Dead art and Tiki stuff that we’ve shown, and they forget that we gave groundbreaking shows to people like Joe Coleman, Michael Hussar, Miriam Wosk, Myron Dyal, and Sam Doyle.
Finger Pointing (Who are some of the first artists you discovered?)
There isn’t enough space here. Check the links page on the website. We were first on most of them. How’s Mark Ryden for one?
Friends (Do you tend to hang out with artists, collectors, Hollywood types, etc.?)
My circle includes artists, musicians, actors, directors, chefs, mechanics, collectors, bankers, etc. I don’t think that a person’s job can sum up their life, but I definitely spend a lot of time around passionate, creative types.
Fulfillment (What floats your boat?)
Seeing perfection and sharing it with others.
Fuck-ups (If you could go back, would you like to redo a part of your life?)
I might have run for office, spent more time in Japan, but I wouldn’t really change much.
Flesh (Do you have any tattoos, piercings, birthmarks or scars?)
Lots of tattoos, a few holes where piercings used to be, and a couple of scars.
Fury (What consistently pisses you off?)
Nothing gets my goat. Holding a grudge is like letting an asshole live rent free in your head.
Future (What shows / projects / work is on the horizon for you and your gallery?)
Daniel Martin Diaz and Rib Burden each have full-room shows in December. January welcomes Alexandra Manukyan, and welcomes back Krystopher Sapp and Frida Gossett. February we debut Soey Milk alongside Christine Wu, Matthew Bone and Bonni Reid. Joe Sorren and Scott Hove have full rooms each in April after our annual March Group Show. Every other May we hold the Rogue Taxidermy Show, and the rest of the year has in store Jason D’Aquino, Germs, Dave Lebow, Miles Thompson, Brad Parker, José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros, a Neon Park & Chick Strand retrospective, Bob Dob, Nathan Ota, and Christopher Ulrich.
Follow (Where can people track what you’re up to?)
Follow us on Facebook (friends of la luz de Jesus Gallery), Twitter (@laluzdejesus) and on the ArtOfficial blog, but for best results sign up for our mailing list at www.laluzdejesus.com
Fill-in (Now is your chance to play word association…)
Fall Out Boy
Flesh and Blood
Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Far East Movement
Full of Beans
Finish (Is there anything else you’d like to add?)
You haven’t been to Los Angeles unless you been to La Luz de Jesus Gallery. This is only the first quarter century –wait until you see what we’ve got in store!