Tony Kennedy, better known as musician for jazz punk band Badgewearer and later, noise punk band with French art collective Le denier crie, is now sought out for his highly politicized and witty digital collages. Kennedy graduated from Glasgow College of Building and Printing in 1988 with a degree in photography.
Collage is an interesting artistic medium, as a set of different things are put together into one landscape. What made you get into this type of expression?
I suppose my first experience of doing collage was making posters for gigs. I started doing cut and paste type photomontages, using either letraset or cut up newspaper headlines for text, in the mid 1980s, and the overall effect was therefore pretty punk rock. Posters that had more in common with brutal rough and ready style of fanzines like ‘allied propaganda.’ There were a couple of photomontage books at the local public library, mostly Dadaist early 20th century art, which didn't do much for me at the time. However, the public library was also where I first saw the work of John Heartfield which really caught my attention and made me realise that punk rock had probably been around for a long time. I had also been completely captivated by a Hanna Hoch collage that I had seen as a child. I knew photographs were depictions of real life, and that paintings were interpretations or subjective representations of whatever had inspired the artist, but this looked like both.
What do you usually want to achieve with a collage, in terms of expression?
If I'm working on artwork for a band's lp cover for example, I'll be trying to get as close as I can to what they want while still feeling comfortable that the overall image is representative of my style and that the finished piece can be recognised as one of my collages. For me with commercial/paid work, the room for personal expression is more limited but it still has to be part of the process, i couldn't just assemble a series of images for someone and present it as my work* without having had a creative role to play in the selection of the various elements used and their interaction with each other.
Some of the more political collages, try to express specific ideas, like drawing attention to the fact that Donald Trump is a sex offender and a misogynist. A collage is a great satirical weapon, as John Hartfield and others have shown. Being able to manipulate the image and persona of your ‘target,’ to place them in compromising situations, to associate their image with whatever it is they're desperate to avoid, and to do that with photographs of those individuals that might not show them in the best light is the aim, ridicule is an effective political tool; if I want to see Trump whimpering like a baby in the corner of a darkened oval office while the ghost of Andrea Dworkin looms over him brandishing a golf club, I can make it happen, and hopefully it will create associations in the minds of the viewers that will be damaging to his public image, and will add in some small way to the overall resistance to his presidency. There has to be some room for interpretation though, for the viewer to find a way into the world I've created and to make their own associations; for some, the fact that the room is dark might be the most significant aspect of the scene, some might see it as an example of radical feminist aggression directed at a poor defenceless unarmed billionaire, unlikely, but it would be a better collage from my point of view if there was enough ambiguity in there to fuel many different interpretations, even if they were contrary to the ideas that were the inspiration for the collage in the first place.
That can also present some problems though, on occasion I've realised that the intended irony in a piece has been overlooked or missed completely by the majority of viewers, so where political satire is concerned I'll try not to complicate things too much, it won't ever be a simple screen printed headshot with the word HOPE underneath … I'll make sure you know who the bad guy is at a glance.
Collages which fall into neither of the two categories above probably represent the majority of what I've done to date. They’re simply works of imagination following the criteria that I've set for myself. They’re also often inspired by dream imagery, occasionally by other artists’ work, like Bosch or the much maligned Dali. At times they’re an attempt to visually realise an emotion or to try and create an emotional response in the viewer, other collages are based on narratives, some are purely abstract where colour and composition are more important to me than the subjects in the frame. I can't paint or draw so collage/photomontage allows me to indulge my imagination and realise thoughts and ideas in a shareable way with people.
His digital collages still implement his photographic works, whether that be an original or an image manipulated by Kennedy, allowing him to combine both practices. He creates each collage with the Samsung galaxy note pro 12.2 and pre and post production on free apps such as Snapseed, PicsArt or PhotoLayers. Kennedy's collages clearly show a punk influence and properly highlight his musical background.
Why do you choose making collages over photography? I’m curious, as collages are typically consisting of different details of photographs.
I originally studied photography at Glasgow college of building and printing, a technical based degree as opposed to the fine art photography degree available at Glasgow school of art. Our class were routinely marched across the city centre to the art school photography degree show where our lecturers would slate the work on show and basically ridicule the art students work for its complete lack of technical expertise. They preferred a well lit set of stainless steel casseroles on a polished marble work top to the tangled masses of black and white bracken that was the signature style of Thomas Joshua Cooper, who was the head of the art school's photography department at the time.
I qualified and began teaching photography at the age of 19, just as Thatcherism was imploding and unemployment was soaring I gave up a well paid job to devote the next ten years of my life to music. Photography never again interested me in the same way, for one thing digital technology had made the technical know how so revered by my tutors all but redundant. Photographs were a thing of the past, images on screens were how people were looking through their holiday snaps, kneeling next to or crouched beside whoever had the mouse, patiently waiting for the next image to reveal itself. Pieces of paper were no longer handled by their edges and passed around a room, photography in that sense was dead, but I did continue to use film to document my life.
My collages do use photographs. They are probably better described as photomontage as analogue collage has a wide range of materials at its disposal, from newspaper and brown paper to photographs and drawings. I only work with digital images and they allow me to create in a way that photography alone cannot. The photograph is a 2 dimensional representation of the 3 dimensional world. With photomontage I can manipulate the scope of the image to a much greater degree and create new 3 dimensional world's some of which are composed of several layers of other 2 dimensional representations of 3 dimensional world's, I can defy or ignore scale, I can remove the sky and replace it with a writing ball of worms, I can go wherever my imagination takes me. Photography alone won't allow me to go there. As beautiful as a photograph can be, it's not what I'm interested in producing.
Image courtesy of Badgewearer