Kenny Pittock: Word Play

Kenny Pittock approaches his practice with sincerity, enthusiasm and whip fast wit, offering a refreshing perspective on the seemingly mundane everyday.

Words: Jane O’Sullivan

Photography: Zan Wimberley

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Kenny Pittock painted a mural about cows inside Launceston’s Albert Hall. “You may be wondering what cows have to do with the performers in the Albert Hall,” he says in his corniest voice. He leaves it a beat then delivers his punchline: “They’re both outstanding in their field.”

Pittock painted the mural (okay, moo-ral) as part of a large body of new work for Mona Foma in Launceston earlier this year. It involved spending three weeks in Launceston in the lead up to the festival, “painting, but also trying to learn about the place as best I could,” he says. One of the other works was a mural at the Workers Club. “It’s a funny place,” he says. “It’s a bit intimidating and also a little bit silly and pretty harmless, so I wanted to make work that had all those elements.” His response was both muscly and geeky: one illustration of forearms next to one of four arms.

In Launceston’s art school, near the heart of the festival, he then exhibited a series of paintings that riffed on “Tasmanian- centric ideas” and local celebrities like the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Pittock’s work often seeks this sort of connection to local or shared experience, though not all of it is about place.

He has made sculptures of all the differ- ent flavours of Arnott’s Shapes biscuits, a series that also referenced shapes as building blocks of art. He has taken shopping lists written on scraps of paper and turned them into ceramic portraits, as told through food preferences and handwriting. A new work, exhibited in his recent solo at MARS Gallery in Melbourne, was called Connector pens connecting and showed textas snapped into an intimate embrace.

For his solo exhibition at Hugo Michell Gallery in Adelaide, Pittock has been developing two possible bodies of work: one with a grid of 64 sculpted Nintendo 64 game cartridges, and another about an unclaimed winning lotto ticket which may or may not be floating around his Melbourne neighbourhood.

“My weekend job is pushing trolleys at a supermarket. It’s a funny job because it’s very physical but you’re not talking and you’re not allowed to look at your phone or anything, so it’s 10 hours in your head,” he says. “I come up with a lot of works while I’m doing that.” (The job also gives him the chance to rescue shop- ping lists and look for unclaimed lotto tickets.)

Pittock often lights on objects that are kitsch in the sense that they are valueless or disregarded, but he draws out unexpected lateral associations that give them new meaning.

There’s sincerity in the way he tries to replicate these everyday objects, from the graphic design details of logos to the crumpled packaging, but he’s not interested in hyperrealism. “I grew up watching Wallace and Gromit. I really like seeing things slightly wonky with a thumbprint in them,” he says.

This associative mode of working means a studio packed with small pieces and ideas in development, all waiting for their opportunity. “I’m always working pretty solidly,” Pittock says. Part of what he most enjoys is assembling these individual items into exhibitions and longer narratives. He compares it to the way stand-up performers take their 10-minute sets and draw them together into a longer show with a narrative arc. “I really like the way that comedians are able to tell big jokes while telling little jokes that keep you interested throughout,” he says.

Another new body of work he is currently developing is a series of wheels. There’s a shopping trolley wheel, a Wagon Wheel, and even a wheel of four tunas (say it out loud then ask for a vowel). “It’s kind of A to B to C,” he says, about the way the connections and associations spiral out. With the wheels, there’s an obvious nod to Duchamp, but also acknowledgment of the Sisyphean task that faces every artist: to start anew with every work.


Artist and lecturer

Jon Campbell has been practising as an artist for more than three decades. For many years, he was also a lecturer in the painting department at the Victorian College of the Arts, which was where he first met Kenny Pittock. “He was serious about what he was doing at art school,” Campbell remembers. “He was looking at things, talking about things, he was engaged.”

Even at that early stage, Campbell saw Pittock’s wit and feel for drawing and sculpting, and the two kept in touch after art school. Then, in 2017, Campbell was selected to exhibit in the Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize.

It’s an unusual invitational award. The first round of selected artists is asked to nominate an emerging artist to also take part. Campbell chose Pittock, who went on to win both the emerging artist and people’s choice prizes for Fifty-two found shopping lists written by people who need milk.

“Things all came together in that work,” says Campbell. It was a great idea, enhanced by the decision to turn the ephemeral scraps of paper into ceramics.

He was also impressed by Pittock’s ambition in making so many, drawing out a sense of community from the individual lists. “He’s got a nice way of finding those interesting details in things,” he says.

Director, Hugo Michell Gallery

“Kenny Pittock approaches his practice with genuine enthusiasm and quick wit, offering a refreshing perspective on the world,” says gallerist Hugo Michell, who is holding Pittock’s first Adelaide solo exhibition this May. It will cap a busy five months for Pittock, including a major exhibition at Mona Foma in Launceston, seeing his work on the cover of the national magazine The Monthly, a solo exhibition in Melbourne with MARS Gallery and a group exhibition in Sydney at Home@735.

“Kenny has a very active online presence through social media [@kennypittock] and the upkeep of his blog []. He extends his practice through these platforms; his online voice is a performative addition to the physical objects he makes,” says Michell.

Last year, after the gallery had already approached Pittock about a solo presentation, Michell invited him into a group exhibition called WORD. It drew together a variety of artists working with text, including Pittock’s former teacher Jon Campbell. “The exhibition was a great opportunity to work with a large group of artists, something we rarely do in a commercial space. Kenny was an obvious choice to be included in WORD. He has a unique approach to language.” Michell says that Pittock’s work in WORD received a “strong response from visitors, who connected with the sincerity in his work”.

This artist was originally published in Art Collector issue 88, APR – JUN 2019. 


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