Insider Series: Jack Kenna

Asia Jong

Going to a studio visit with Jack always feels just slightly redundant. After living together as roommates for almost four years, I have gained an intimate understanding of his practice as experienced through life and contextualized through art. Over the past years, I have seen many iterations of Jack’s studio. While Jack is primarily a painter, at BAF, he has created a studio specifically for stained glass. However, most notably filling the space are the stacks of multicolored crates, haphazardly piled one on top of the next, as if one accidental bump wouldn’t send the crates’ intricate interlaid glass crashing into pieces. While being the most dedicated and hard-working artist I know, Jack approaches his work in an almost cavalier manner, nothing is ever too precious.

Throughout his multifaceted practice, Jack has the ability to turn mundane, commonplace items into objects of reverence. The witty playfulness in his work feels as though you could turn around and see him winking at you from across the room. The milk crate itself is a utilitarian object without any financial value but, for all the time I have known him, Jack has described it as his muse. His infatuation with the milk crate is due partly to its widespread relatability as a versatile object to which many have their own personal connection. You can find references to crates across all of Jack’s work—in his paintings, drawings, ceramics, and here, in stained glass. There is obvious irony in his use of this material often associated with cathedral windows or Tiffany lamps, now embedded into a box you can find on the side of the road. In cheeky disobedience, the adorned crates defy their own embossed words: “USE BY OTHER THAN REGISTERED OWNER PROHIBITED BY LAW.”

The other day I watched as Jack pulled the crates that formed the shelves of our porch garden. In the past few weeks I’ve been noticing things missing from our house, not knowing until after they’ve disappeared that the crates had become an invisible architecture of our home. I not only have a relationship with Jack but with the crates themselves. We’ve lived with these crates, moved houses with these crates—they have been our living room ottoman, Jack’s laundry basket, my lamp stand, our recycling bin. Each crate has taken on many reincarnations in its post-milk-carrying life. A palimpsest of accrued dirt, faded sharpie, spray paint, and the back of a sticker (once attempted to be removed) trace the crate’s history in the crevices of its cheap plastic. 

Jack explains that he sees the crates as a representation of youth and transience, a symbol of his early twenties and a chapter in his life that is ending. There’s no longer a need to hoard crates for makeshift furniture. From being an alleyway stool, to a workshop easel, to an object here in the studio, the utility of the milk crate has been rendered nil as the lifecycle of the crate reaches its final form as a useless piece of art. Jack’s utilization of these crates are a result of growing up. They stand in as monuments to fleeting moments, changing relationships, and honoring something for what it is or what it was. And just as the crates turn over a new beginning, Jack has also come to terms with moving onto the next chapter in his life—this time not taking these crates with him.