The overture to Limp-Wristed by Richard Kennedy is Role Lies, a large-scale canvas spilling over with the artist’s vivid colors and thick textures. Across the work, at some points nestled into the layers of paint and at others scratched definitively and plainly across the canvas, are the words “LIBERATION”, “Limp Wrist” and “TRIUMPH”. This painting sets the tone for an exhibition that collapses toxic homophobia into gay gesture.
Growing up in the American Midwest, Richard Kennedy worked night shifts to finance his dance training. Since then, he has spent the majority of his career on various stages – both Broadway and queer night-club alike. The operatic form is a sustained focus for Kennedy through which to critique the cultural hierarchies that the artist finds himself forced to navigate.
His extension into painting is part of a larger, multi-disciplinary practice that incorporates the artist’s body in multiple ways (in performance, sculpture, video), which is evident in these paintings as the canvases barely contain the marks of the artist, which seem to stretch and extend beyond the edges. It is precisely through this excess that Kennedy is able to subvert the masculine construction of the medium itself. Kennedy’s paintings are expressive and elastic, reclaiming the art form from the overdetermination of its macho art-histories.
The texts that are scrawled across each canvas act as visual scores, setting the rhythm and the melody for each work, and orienting the viewer. The texts are pulled from Kennedy’s own writings, and act as the librettos of the exhibition. This exploration of the power of speech acts is central to Kennedy’s work, as he grapples with the power that language has to call into being, like incantations summoning alternate futures. The power in the twisting, and reappropriation of language once uttered to degrade or shame. The language contributes to the affective charge of the paintings, with mourning, joy, fear and the sublime.
The textured and layered, paintings that comprise Limp-Wristed are at once both open and enigmatic. Kennedy’s works are immersive set design, characters in the acts, and stand-ins, extensions of the artist – gestural traces of his mark-making, and the choreography of the artist’s body across the canvas. The compositions echo across multiple registers to take on the legacy of abstraction, using European classical art forms for the articulation of a queer, Black experience.