Visiting Artist Kenny Rivero Gives an Inspiring Lecture at VCU
By Madyson Fitzgerald
The VCU Department of Painting and Printmaking invited Kenny Rivero, a nationally recognized artist, to campus for a lecture on his life story, experiences and becoming who he was eventually meant to be, the latter being an engaging narrative to college students.
Born in Washington Heights, New York, Rivero grew up around a scene bustling with art and inspiration. In 2006, he received his BFA from the School of Visual Art, and later, his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2012. Rivero has taught at many different institutions, including the School of Visual Arts, Montclair State University, Yale School of Art and more. In both the United States and abroad, Rivero’s work has been exhibited in prestigious showings, including the Pera Museum in Turkey, the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands and El Museo del Barrio in New York City. His works have also gone to earn him an interesting array of awards, including the Doonesbury Award, the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant and the Joan Mitchell Painting and Sculptor Grant.
On September 5, Kenny Rivero paid VCU a visit to talk about growing up in New York, his interesting family background and other stories important to his “origin story”, as he likes to call it. He began by explaining his goal when it came to his art.
“Speaking presently,” Rivero started, “my goal is to provide a platform for these various narratives that I’m constantly engaging with. I want them to have a real direct dialogue with one another – a real connection – not only so they can interact, but also to give them an opportunity to cross-pollinate in a way that generates new stories with flexible paths.”
“The goal,” he goes on, “is to decolonize my past from a white canonical structure and liberate myself from the traumas from all my anxieties and insecurities so I can unpack the social traumas that I engage with historically. This way, I can finally discover who I really am and move forward with who I actually want to become.”
This concept, of discovering “who I really am”, is popular among college students, and rang true with many of the youth in attendance. College, in particular, is where students can experience new things away from the pressures of their parents and former peers, creating an entirely foreign environment for some. More specifically, being a student of the arts offers a very overt form of self-expression.
John Chae, a sophomore graduate student in the Department of Painting and Printmaking, appreciated Rivero’s idea of being true to yourself and creating a platform for people who may not have formally had one. “I think art making and painting is a platform to communicate with people indirectly, so I think it’s important to have marginalized individuals and minorities included on these platforms,” Chae said. “As a minority artist myself, I think I get inspired whenever I see a marginalized voice have that platform; and he [Rivero] doesn’t just talk about himself; he talks about his community, he talks about his family history, and takes it upon himself to research where he is and why he’s attracted to certain things. I think it all tells a story about not just one person, but everybody who came before him.”
Rivero later included a quote from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. This quote, one of Baldwin’s most famous ones, helps push Rivero’s point of individuals having multiple layers. “People are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted.”
He went on to talk about how his art, in turn, has impacted himself. “For me it’s really important to create something that I can wander in and it can actually affect me somehow. I like to be a viewer of my own work; I want to be challenged by it. I feel like those are the kinds of energies that generate new ideas and help me find myself.”
A student related this concept to art as an expression of the artist. “As I was thinking, I realized that a lot of his work comes from personal experiences,” said Bryan Ceastro, another sophomore graduate student in VCU’s Department of Painting and Printmaking, “I thought that it was very generous of him to share that. It makes you wonder how experiences that come from formidable places translate into a more public space as in with visual art.”
Rivero’s inspiring lecture emphasized the impact that art has on a person and how, through painting, printmaking and sculpting, an artist can find who they’re meant to be.