JAKE KENNEDY - BUTTERNUT COLLAGE
collage artist︎ Hove/UK
september 18, 2020
As always first things first, could you please introduce yourself a little? Where are you from, what do you do, and if there is anything else you would like us to know, please do tell…
Hello. I’m Jake Kennedy and I work in an old petrol station converted into studio space in Hove in Sussex in the UK. I’m an analogue collage artist working with old bits and bobs. I don’t let computers get near the creating of my work, but I’m friendly with a scanner to get them online and onto Instagram, a medium which has totally invigorated my practice and the chance for people to see it.
Why Butternut Collage?
I wish I could say it had a deep meaning but that’s part of the joy of it really, it’s a bit silly, it isn’t supposed to be pretentious, and is in itself a collage I suppose – butter and a nut. Soft and hard.
Your IG profile says anti-selfie and Luddite, so of course we have to ask about that too.
It’s just a hint at me being more interested in old worn things than sparkly new things. I buy old clothes, my bike is from the 70s, I like old music. I dunno, it’s not a mission statement or anything, but I do prefer analogue collage to digital. While there are some amazing digital collagers out there I wouldn’t know where to start with that, so maybe it’s jealousy.
As for the selfies – they just make my flesh crawl. I’d rather see what someone can make, rather than what they look like. It’s an irrelevance. I’d rather see what’s on the other side of the camera that’s pointing at someone’s pouting face.
Your website says you’ve been doing collage since forever? Would you care to elaborate on that?
Ha yeh, I nicked that slogan from a skateboard brand, but it does feel like I’ve been doing it forever. I think my first collage was in 1993, at school. And it’s been more or less ongoing since then, although I took a good few years out here and there. I tried printing, and writing, but collage just stuck. Nowadays it’s all I really do. It doesn’t pay the bills – the boring writing does – but it’s definitely something I give waaaay more time to than anything else.
Was collage a medium that spoke to you from the beginning, or was this more of an accidental encounter?
Yes and no. Believe it or not, I used to have a phobia of wet paper. So although I liked the results of collage in the early days, it was kinda repulsive to me. I’ve overcome it now.
When I first started, I liked the easy humour of it. It seemed to easy. You could make funny facial juxtapositions, or put slogans where they shouldn’t be. It was sort of punk rock. And so easy to do – you just needed glue and scissors. There’s also something non-committal about it – if you don’t stick something down, you can move bits around until you’re happy, which is great for composing a piece. And I’ve said it before, but if you want a hand or a phone in a piece, you don’t have to go to the trouble of actually drawing either, you can just cut them out from somewhere.
Do you do any other kind of art?
I was a linocut printer for a few years before I fell properly back into collage. But it was just too hard! And messy. I feel a bit sorry for linocut, like I abandoned it, but there are so many talented printers out there – especially here in Brighton & Hove - that it can support itself. Collage felt like I’d come home.
Since you’ve been doing this forever, have you noticed any developments or trends in the collage world? Other than the obvious move to digital techniques.
Err, there’s seems to be a nice recklessness about it now which there never used to be. And people seem to have embraced the fact that abstraction, the decaying, the torn and the downright destroyed can make beautiful images.
Source material, and people’s attitudes to it, have/has changed as well. Nowadays you might find someone has exactly the same books as you, so there’s more of a search for exclusivity, especially if you’re working in an analogue way.
You’re looking for something no one’s used before, or maybe even seen. I love National Geographic and its kodachrome colours in the 1940s/50s, but so many people are working with those images too. And maybe that means collage feels more competitive in this century. Whereas in the 1990s, even the early 00s, there was no showcasing/showboating on Instagram – which of course I’m guilty of too - so you just pleased yourself, which had a purity.
The flipside of that is that social media’s a great tool for research and seeing other artists’ work, people who can take it further than you, have better skills, or do things you’d never have thought of doing yourself.
Has your own style and practice developed over the past almost three decades, and if so, how?
I’ve got more skilled at precision and accuracy I think, and I’ve learned more about colour. I’m more able to spot clichéd stuff I do better (but not always). Editing and deciding what I don’t show has taken on more of a key role. I’ve stopped using space backgrounds. I’ve tried to stop replacing people’s heads with ‘wacky’ things. I stopped using ‘readable’ chunks of text. That’s about it.
I’m just forging on, not sure each day where I’m going with it. Which is ok.
Do you have any idea as to how many collages you have created over the years?
Erm, no, not really, but it’s in the thousands definitely. I’d say it’s between 2,000 and 3,000. Although many of those are absolutely rubbish.
Did you do any collaborations or projects that you are particularly proud of and/or want to share with us?
I’ve just done some pieces for an auction for a Hepatitis charity which was so nice to be asked to do. I also offered each and every collage on my insta for £20 for the Australian wildfire charity last year, and raised nearly a grand for that, which meant a lot of trips to the post office. Basically, if someone’s willing to pay for a piece of mine, I’m over the moon.
Sadly, I’ve never done a collaboration though. Get in touch if you’re interested, collage world.
You seem to use vintage ephemera almost exclusively. Do you ever work with other, maybe contemporary materials?
Not so much. The main proviso is tone – a cutting from the 1980s usually doesn’t work with one from the 1950s, for example – although sometimes they do – and I’m always learning more and more about composition. I’ve learnt not to stick anything down until the last minute. Lots of pieces don’t work, and they don’t see the light of day, but with collage you can move onto the next thing quite easily. It’s a brilliant medium for the short attention span/Instagram generation, but also for someone like me who spends all their time in flea markets and boot sales and whatnot.
Are there any artists who particularly influenced you?
Initially it wasn’t visual art. I mean, I quite enjoy what I’ve see of the process of Peter Blake, how he has a magpie approach to his 3D collages particularly, and the great voids of Mark Rothko - Cy Twombly too, what seems like chaos but isn’t.
But my main visual influences, subconsciously, were more from comedy and music at first – Vic & Bob, Chris Morris, Pavement, Warp - loads of record sleeves actually, that sort of thing. I’ve always liked things that were slightly out of context but that then go on to make their own new one.
Can you tell us a little bit about the titles of your pieces? Where do they come from? From where do you draw inspiration?
I never have titles first, that’s for sure. I either just try and make something funny, or abstract, or completely non-related to the image. They’re the three strands I think. Someone like @moonloops on Instagram is a master of titles, with his little snatches of what almost makes sense.
As for inspiration, I have a ton of images in my studio that are uncut in folders, or mags, or books, or photo albums, which I add to all the time, then I tend to just leaf through them each morning and see what jumps out.
I often get triggered by a cutting/advert/photo, and then spend ages trying to pair it up with another. Or increasingly I’ll see how it can be deconstructed or destroyed completely and work with just the remnants. It can take an age, or a few minutes.
There’s not really a set way I work, but you’re right, you do need the inspiration and sometimes it just doesn’t come – and that’s normally when I need to go shopping for more raw material which usually gets the ball rolling again.
Jake Kennedy ︎ ︎
interview: Petra Zehner