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Junk Food Still Lifes Dissect Notions of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Foods

The prolific artist Kenya Hanley creates portraits of food and pop culture figures.

Cartoonish yet elegant drawings of delicious cakes in neat piles and meticulously organized bowls of fruit: this is the work of artist Kenya Hanley. For the past 10 years, Hanley has been a resident at LAND (League Artists Natural Design) Gallery, a studio that has dedicated itself to providing a space for artists, such as Hanley, with developmental disabilities. Hanley has been independently making work since he was a child, exploring notions of unhealthy vs. healthy foods, lists, music, and TV.    

Hanley often draws his favorite subjects — food, television actors, reggae musicians, and babies — in a grid-like manner across the page. On occasion, Hanley can be found drawing full meals on plates, calling them “menus." He also enjoys alphabetizing food, organizing them according to his favorite TV show titles, which he writes underneath. 

Kenya Hanley, Healthy Snacks, 2016, Mixed Media on Paper, 17

Kenya Hanley, Healthy Snacks. Courtesy of LAND Gallery.

Hanley uses art as a tool for communication. Although the artist is interested in healthy eating, he often draws unhealthy yet decadent looking snacks, cakes, and meat plates.

LAND coordinator Sophia Cosmadopoulos tells The Creators Project, “I infer that this organization of food and people is soothing to him, and is a way for him to have control over and understanding of the things that otherwise might be overly stimulating or overwhelming to him."  She says, “ I think Kenya draws desserts because he wants to live out his desire to eat them without actually doing so," says Cosmadopoulos.

She adds, "He is a huge fan of Reggae music and TV, and those topics are things he explores consistently in his work. His family is of Jamaican decent and I think that culture influences his work too.”

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Kenya Hanley, Menu, 2015, Mixed Media On Paper, 17"X14". Courtesy of LAND Gallery.

Ever since Hanley entered LAND Gallery 10 years ago, he has been hard at work every day, at times declining field trips to work on his art to instead spend hours in his studio drawing. His work has been the subject of an exhibition at the J. Crew flagship store and has been a part of J. Crew's corporate collection. His pieces can also be found in The Museum of Everything in London as well as in several private collections around the United States.

“At LAND, the artists usually enter the program with a pre-existing strong and consistent artistic voice," says Cosmadopoulos. "In fact, in the application process we include a portfolio review, and for the most part, each artist already has a cohesive body of work.  LAND is an open studio, and the staff are very hands-off. The artist's work in the studio independently, choosing their own subject matter and materials and work at their own pace with little instruction."

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Kenya Hanley, Rasta Men, 2016, Mixed Media on Paper, 24”x19”. Courtesy of LAND Gallery.

Cosmadopoulas says,  "Our artists may struggle to communicate and connect with others in more stereotypical ways, they are all able to find their voice through their art, which seems to be a universal language. When our artists are given the space and the tools to work on this medium, their worlds become boundless." 

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Kenya Hanley. Courtesy of LAND Gallery

Find out more about LAND Gallery, and see more of Kenya Hanley's work, here

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