Dana Lynn Harper and Gabe Kenney were resident artists at Brown Elementary School this spring working with my dear friend, Rachel Murdock and her art students. I was lucky enough to volunteer in Rachel’s class during their time with the students. The students assisted Dana in creating a permanent installation in the lobby of the school and also made nature prints with found leaves, etc. with Gabe. We had so much fun and I enjoyed them and their art so much, we decided that it would fun to do a couple’s interview!
I had a chance to meet with them again just recently to finish up our interview. We met at Second Sight where they first did a residency together when returning to Dana’s hometown. We discussed a little more about their backgrounds, internships/residencies, their relationship and how it began as well as what the future holds for them both individually and as a couple.
First, let’s learn a little bit about each of them individually!
Actually, I had seen some of Dana’s work on The Art and Artists of 614 Facebook page earlier in the spring while she worked on an installation with one of the art teachers at Upper Arlington High School…(coincidentally her alma mater and where I spent a good deal of my time while working in UA as a Speech Pathologist!!) I loved the piece she did with them (now permanently displayed in one of the cafeterias) and found out that she had attended UA when I was teaching there…six degrees of separation!
During the spring, I also attended the opening reception for her show, elsewhere, at The Vanderelli Room and purchased one of her little pieces for my studio in Florida. And then soon after the work at Rachel’s school, I went to a couples shower for Rach and her now hubby, Austin, at Wild Goose and what should be installed there but ANOTHER piece of Dana’s! She’s everywhere not elsewhere…LOL!
Dana stated that she thinks most children are artists, and she felt like she’s always been one, collecting interesting objects, photographing her stuffed animals and drawing places and people from a very young age. ‘I think artists just maintain their curiosity and imagination from their childhood. Nurturing and practicing imagination creates new ways of thinking, seeing and understanding, this creates an artist as an adult.’ Just being alive, experiencing the world, friendships and relationships has made her eager to create.
As I stated, she attended UA and went on to get her BFA from Ohio State in 2009 where she majored in Art and Technology. From there, she attended graduate school at Penn State University and graduated in 2013 (where she met Gabe) where she received The Bunton Waller Fellowship. Making art is her full time work along with teaching workshops and small classes. While at Penn State, she taught beginning sculpture and mixed media sculpture and has taught polymer clay classes at local art centers in Columbus.
When asked to categorize her art, she stated:
Categories create limitations for me. Sometimes my art takes form in three dimensions, sometimes two. Sometimes it is the size of a room and sometimes it can fit in the palm of my hand. I have used all sorts of materials, from the craft store to the hardware store. I make video, installation, sculpture, paintings, collage and performance work. As soon as I start to think about categories I think of ways that I break the rules. I can define myself as a maker though, I am a manipulator of material that is driven by color and pattern.
People, children, kindness, memory and the future all provide inspiration for her. “Children imagine more, categorize and analyze less than adults as well as going to magical imagined places…they don’t respond to limitations the way adults do” and she finds this not only refreshing but inspiring.Her hope is to bring people (adults and children) back to that place of discovery and imagination through her works and teaching.
I am driven by material; I am always searching for something new to create my next large installation work. I use smaller collages and paintings to play, almost like sketching. I collect lots of things, often finding myself in thrift stores, searching for patterns, textures and colors that are exciting. I buy items that trigger memory and give me joy.
Each project or installation she creates is based on a repeated pattern of a new technique that she has developed, whether that is tying a knot or sealing objects in resin. As she said previously, material drives her work and she loves to manipulate it, usually cutting it up into different sections and repositioning it to become something new.
Currently, she sells her work at Glean in the Short North as well as at the Lacquer Gallery in Grandview. She also has had an etsy shop for over 5 years (www.etsy.com/shop/danalynnharper) where she sells small works and jewelry to help maintain her regular studio practice. She views this shop as separate from her studio work because it is a completely separate process. In her etsy shop, she makes works that are purposefully sellable whereas in her studio she ignores practicality and focuses more on making works that are lead by conceptual ideas. Her plan this year is to become an official LLC, Dana Lynn Harper Studios. Instagram has also served as a great place to sell her work, ‘you can find my account here: @danalynnharper. Instagram is where I post lots of studio and process pictures, as well as finished works.’
In addition, she and her partner, Gabe Michael Kenney travel as the artist collective, “Parachute Troupe”. This endeavor began shortly after graduation when they brought her installation, “Bloom Bloom”, to over 20 music festivals across the United States while also selling jewelry and goods.
She has been a very busy lady since moving back to Columbus where she joined CAW (Creative Arts of Women) and subsequently presented a lecture series in affiliation with them. The series was called , “Radiate & Transform : Women, Art & The 21st Century.” In these she discussed the most monumental contemporary women artists from the 21st century, focusing on artists that have affected her own practice. Her show “daydream” was exhibited at Otterbein University’s Fischer Gallery through August and she will have a solo exhibition of installation works at Sean Christopher Gallery in December and be curating their “Young Hearts” exhibition in February 2016. She will also be exhibiting at ROY G BIV in September 2016. One of her murals can now be seen at the corner of Starr and High Streets and she participated in Independents’ Day in Franklinton this year…whew!!!
She has also received several accolades including a GCAC supply grant, ArtFile Emerging Artist Grant Recipient, 2014 and a grant from The Ringholz Foundation. In addition, she is a finalist for an 8 week Woman’s Studio Workshop in Upstate New York and hopes to find out if she has been chosen in November.
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Artist & Educator
And now for a little bit about Gabe before discussing their evolution as a couple:
Gabe originates from a suburban city on the edge of the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania called Greensburg. He attended the Johnstown, PA branch of the University of Pittsburgh first studying business for a year before radically switching gears and heading west to study art at a ‘small, small town’ in mid-central Colorado called Western State Colorado University. There, he obtained his Bachelors of Fine Arts in traditional printmaking, and spent all of his free time exploring the wild. Two years after leaving Colorado, he went on to pursue a Masters degree at Penn State. Much closer to home, but still nestled in a small valley close to the mountains, he furthered his studies in the more contemporary and conceptual avenues and practices in art and left as a hybrid print, installation and performance artist.
AsopInc, an abstract, hypothetical pseudo-corporate sponsor for all of his projects, has been a common element seen in his work since 2002. Because all of his work is project based, he does not sell his work online. Instead he mostly sells selected work at exhibitions that cater to his body of work that is accessible for the public, like prints, or design work. Most of the installation/performance work is sponsored by AsopInc, and is not a commodity to be sold, but rather an event to attend and experience.
When asked if he would consider himself to be a professional artist, he stated : I get by as a self-employed artist, teaching workshops at elementary and high schools, installing site specific installation art, doing and array of odd jobs under the table like residential painting, landscaping, cleaning, maintenance, and also vending handmade jewelry and/or art whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Gabe doesn’t view art as a direction he chose but a process that he went through. He believes that we are all artists; transforming ourselves, our surroundings and each other through life events. He has been drawn to understand himself through creating. ‘After many trials and errors, I find that I best understand myself when I am attempting to deliberately alter myself, others and environments. It’s as if, art isn’t a direction, Art is the journey itself.’
While studying “business”, (located far out in the hills of Appalachian mountains in a town ranked 14th most economically depressed city in America at the time), Gabe was lost in an identity crisis, stuck in classes he didn’t really want to take because he sure didn’t believe in the whole business paradigm and like most freshman, partying a little too hardily. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, home of the infamous Johnstown Flood, horizontal rain and wildly popular haunted attractions for ghost hunters everywhere. He took a few sociology, psychology, business and philosophy courses and became disgusted with the world.
However, struggling through this hazy period, he kept a sketchbook, listened to transcendental music and searched for himself. Synchronicity came into play when he met a guy who lived across the hall. The two became good buds, snowboarding, playing the same video games and sharing the same uneasy feelings about their futures. This friend grew up in a military family and lived all over the country, graduating from Colorado Springs. When spring break came around, this friend encouraged him to take a ski trip with him to check out a college in the Colorado mountains. ‘First week back, applications for the following year were in the mail and we were out of Johnstown and heading west by the end of summer. I chose to study art because my Uncle was a High School art teacher for over 40 years. A true creative inspiration and all together kind and gentle soul, he unknowingly inspired me to pursue life as a visual artist.
Gabe tries to avoid categorizing his art because when he does, it tends to stunt his mental momentum He did say that his work is certainly a hybrid of sorts: a fusion of many different conceptual and material avenues. Like some of his favorite music, his work attempts to bridge foreign bodies of thought, a bit humorous, a bit serious. To quote him:
It’s visually compelling, often an over abundance of patterns, signs, symbols, text help assist an all together sensory overload. It’s kind of goofy, weird, confusing. I use Printmaking and Sculptures as key components in large and/or small-scale installations. I then use an array of “Characters” I have developed to actively engage the space in front of a collective audience. Each character represents what I call a Parallel Identity, in which I use costuming and personae to embody an exaggerated facet of my own ego.
Gabe seeks inspiration in music, history, science, wise elders, women , water, film, psychedelics, animals, nature, romance, outer space, inner space, and above, all his family friends and lover and ‘art-partner-in-crime, Ms. Dana Lynn Harper.’
Most recently, he learned solar plate etching, a quick, fun, non-toxic intaglio method of printing. I also have been developing a mobile Art Cart that can travel and pop-out into an on-site performance center. I am also printing a large edition of Cyanotype Charts. They are very geometric and naturally, blue! Both projects are still under way but after the summer, the Art Cart now has a strong, steel handle/pulley system and the Cyanotype Edition is still in the pre-print design phase, there are roughly 110 designs with Gabe allotting studio time to develop the photos this November.
In January 2015, he was awarded one of eleven Harpo Foundation Grants that has immensely benefited the caliber of his work practice. He was also awarded an experimental residency with Neo Future in Finland for one month in April 2016.
“Much of the work I make is made in smaller parts separately and then assembled and pieced together very quickly. I have yet had the time to spend more than a few days actually installing work in a space. My goal is to find a space I can take the time to produce something truly special.” Gabe suggests that readers direct their attention to: www.thrivemovement.com He states: “Watch the movie. Question your surroundings.The movie is important, watch it. And, as I stated before, I am inspired by film and history and science. Many unique ideologies in which I am particularly interested are found within the film”
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OK, as if that isn’t enough, here’s some info about how they evolved as a couple that often works together as artists.
While at Penn State, they had the opportunity to experiment with different media especially through performance art. Their relationship development from first kiss to the progression of falling in love was documented through performance art Graduate school challenged them to push their artistic limits through means of expression that felt foreign to them both. They began to do remakes of past iconic pieces, that ignited the flame that just naturally sparked between them. For instance, they performed a scenario similar to John and Yoko (Gabe curled up naked next to Dana). This piece was actually a film but displayed as a photo where viewers could see Dana blinking and Gabe breathing creating a surreal optical illusion. They also mimicked John and Yoko’s ‘sit-in’ by living in the school gallery for a week, doing interviews and experimenting with audience participation performances that clearly drew inspiration from John, Yokp and avant-garde art icons like Marina Abramovic and David Byrne (Talking Heads). More of the work and further description can be found on Gabe’s website under the “Meet Me Right Here” exhibition.
Upon graduation, they traveled the Eastern US exhibiting Dana’s installation work, ‘Bloom, Bloom’ at several music and arts fests spanning the countryside from Maine to Texas, New Orleans to Michigan. Then when winter came, they moved together to the Garfield/Bloomfield area of Pittsburgh for a 3 month residency with the Bunker Projects. While there, they created art and each had a solo show at the end of their stay. From there, they moved to Columbus where they had a 6 months residency with Second Sight and Mona Gazala. They met Mona in Cleveland while doing a Cleveland West Arts League show and she convinced them to move to our fair city! This residency lasted from May-October of 2014. While there, they made art, did solo shows and Dana taught classes at the Cultural Arts Center.
Since that time, they have spent over half their time researching online for grants, residencies and other means of supporting the lifestyle of a working artist. When asked about this process, they both stated that they see themselves continuing to be residents in grassroots/from the ground up locations. Doing this for the next 5-10 years is their goal for the time being and they indicated that they could see themselves returning to performance art at some time in the future. That being said, Mona has approached them about the possibility of another residency at her newly purchased site (Phase II) behind Second Sight…we’ll see what happens!
Being ‘compulsive collectors’, Gabe stated that one of their priorities is also to find SPACE! Their current apartment does not allow for enough space to store materials, complete large scale work and create projects at the level they would prefer. Because of this, they remain on the hunt for a new place to set up shop. This is particularly critical as they would like to make more environments/ massive works that are just not feasible right now.
As for future collaborations, they like the idea of working together when they can but have individual goals for each of their careers. They both will participate in hosting joint exhibitions at ROY G BIV gallery in 2016 but will be making separate bodies of work, most likely paired to show with other local artists.
I think it’s safe to say that this couple will not stagnate or rest on their laurels! Seems to me that the future looks bright for them both individually and as a duo…will keep you posted on what the future holds for this dynamic duo!