Kevin Hennessy on making folk art and other signs of the time
Once you recognize Kevin Hennessy's singular style, it's hard not to notice his work all over Denver. "I used to do the specials on the chalkboard at City, O' City when I worked there -- they'd leave me on the clock and let me (design)," says Hennessy, whose official job at the restaurant was much more kitchen-oriented.
Kevin Hennessy and the wood that became his skateboard signage, now on display at Ironwood.
Now that he's making art full-time, Hennessy's hand-crafted font graces the sign that greets customers outside the remodeled incarnation of City, O' City. Hennessy's work is retro without being contrived; instead, the wild style of his graffiti upbringing has merged with the American folk art he's come to respect in a way that looks authentically vintage. The imperfect curves and wiggly lines in his lettering are impossible to reproduce without human hands -- and Hennessy likes it that way.
With Hennessy's Summer Mumbo solo show hanging at Ironwood through the end of the month, Westword caught up with the artist to talk more about bad fonts, good signs and a love for a time gone by.
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Westword: How did Summer Mumbo, your current show at Ironwood, come about?
Kevin Hennessy: Aly (Two Eagles) and Jeff (Childress), who own it, are friends of mine. I used to work with Aly a couple of years back, and when they opened Ironwood, I went down there to check it out and thought it was a great shop -- full of all kinds of cool junk. It kind of looks like the inside of my bedroom.
I went to two different shows there -- and the way they presented and promoted them was really great. I asked Aly if I could show there, and she was actually going to talk to me (about showing) anyway. She had seen my art in the past and thought it would fit well with the shop -- which I think it does. The next time available was September, around my birthday, so I just thought, why not have a birthday party (opening)?
You've not only painted and screened pieces for this show, but done some woodworking. Were the pieces you're showing made for the Ironwood show, or were they already works in progress?
All the skateboards -- planks of hardwood and nice cherry wood -- were made from pieces I had set aside. I had wanted to make a collection of skateboards for a long time; I had this idea for old-school, sidewalk surfboards. When we started talking about this show, the idea popped into my head to make the boards.
I had been thinking about (how to) bring some signage into them, and some printing, too. I wanted a color scheme. All of the printing and all the signage on the skateboards is in primary colors, which was what I wanted for the show -- to keep everything kind of similar in color. It's also based on having fun, being a kid, just skateboarding and stuff.
It fits well within the store -- Ironwood is so intentionally curated, and your pieces definitely belong to the old-school, made-with-care vibe.
Yeah (after the opening) when all of the tables are set back out in the shop, you can see everything. It's a cool place. It's really interesting and fun to look through everything they've got.
This isn't your first solo show, right?
I've showed at different coffee shops and restaurants. Some group shows at galleries around town. It's my second solo show -- but Ironwood is definitely a smaller space, so I put more energy into each piece, rather than trying to fill the space.
The show is definitely a tribute to your work as a sign painter. Where can people see your hand painted signs around Denver?
Let's see: Right now, Nooch Vegan Market has a sign and I did a big one at City, O' City. I did Ironwood's window right now (for the show) and will do another one for them. I did chalkboards for Café Europa and Ace restaurant -- I like doing those boards, just to chill out. I did some addresses along 13th Avenue, boards and the sign at Yellow Feather Coffee and am working on another sign for them right now. I'm getting ready to do some signage around the inside of Meininger on the Hill in Boulder.