When we show up at Kenton’s studio he is sitting with a couple of friends, passing around a joint. They had just got back from happy hour, and I am glad to see that Kenton is relaxed. He’s known for unapologetically saying what’s on his mind in rapid-fire sentences—I’d been nervous about this interview since leaving Seattle. Across the room sitting on his desk are two miniature sculptures. One is a tiny replica of a Chanel storefront, which I recognize from my research. On the floor are pieces of his By Any Means Necessary installation—barbells made of concrete are slipped on old broom sticks and random pieces of wood—a comical ode to self-improvement. His work is very much a reflection of his storytelling process, and he’ll be the first to tell you that he has is very aware of his ad nauseam attention to detail—he is a Virgo, after all.
Q | DOPE Magazine: I read that you like to speak in rapid fire sentences laced with expletives. Have you always been a fast talker, and does creating art help you to slow down?
Kenton Parker: I’ve definitely always been a fragmented-sentence talker. I think someone said I was kinda like a stick of dynamite. Which I actually agree with . . . I’ll say to my girl or something, “You have to listen to the whole sentence before making up your mind.” Most people don’t have enough patience for me [laughs].
Q | One of your installations is entitled, “Always Sorry – Flower Shop.” Your work seems to be influenced by life’s challenges, heartache, emotion. Can you explain your process when you create something new?
A: I feel like my work is always super content driven, but also extremely journalistic. When I’m dead, you’ll be able to go through the whole thing and say, “Oh shit, this is what this kid was going through.” All the starburst paintings are about individual people—mostly girls—that I [have] dated or gone out with. Or family members and friends. All of the installations are about putting things on pedestals. The flower shop was like, shit, I get in trouble so much with girls that my credit card was on file with the flower shop. It was always a joke to me—“always sorry.” . . . A girl told me once, “Why do you always give me flowers when you’re in the doghouse? I want flowers when you’re not in the doghouse!” I was like, “Oh, fuck.” And I learned a giant lesson on that.
The Always Sorry Flower Shop was one of my funnest and best installations, ‘cause it hit such a homerun—with guys, mostly. From a beauty aspect it was gorgeous; the plants in the front lived and died and got replaced every week or whatever. You had this sense of life and death. The roof was always living, so you got this whole sense of the lifecycle. Flowers are super fragile, and I compare people to flowers. You’re fragile . . . I remember the first time I showed it, four days before the show I had to go home and put my dog down, then fly back and do this show. I put his collar in that installation. It was a really big deal for me at that point in time. That installation was super powerful and impactful to me.
** Photo: always sorry flower shop
Q | You liken your work to a journalist enterprise, and you free write every day. Do you think that you’d ever do a written piece, or something outside of your typical art form?
A: The text pieces, which is the freewriting that I do—it’s all on 8×11 sheets of paper. There are thousands of them. They’ve actually been a really cool concept. Freewriting was always the equivalent, to me, of getting through a thousand different ideas . . . I started showing them with my gallery primarily in Miami, and we started selling sheets of paper with things written on them. I sold one that said, “I’ll see it when I believe it.” It later became a mural in Miami, and did really well. It’s about manifesting your own dreams . . .
Some of the text pieces are really stupid, and some are emotional—a lot of them are vulgar, and a lot of them are straight out of the mouth. Ah, man. I just fucked that fucking shit up! A lot of them, when I am going in and out of relationships, will be about girls and raw emotions. I think what you get from freewriting is the rawness of it, which I like. I just got to co-write this TV pilot, which was really, really cool. It’s with my writing partner, Harrison James. It was really fun to write. I don’t know if I could do a book, but the pilot was fun—coming up with dialogue and stories . . . I would leave my art studio, go there to write, and it was like going to soccer practice. It’s been really cool.
Q | Why L.A.? Why art and graffiti here?
A: I feel extremely fortunate to have traveled a lot with my family. My dad was in the military, and we got to live in Korea and across the U.S., mostly living in Northern California. I went to college in San Diego, and at that point we had started a nightclub—me and two partners—we were 18, and I am 48 now, so that was [around] 1989. After graduating, it was natural to move to L.A. to keep that business going. Also, I felt like I had gotten stuck in this sand trap in San Diego, and had done everything I could do . . . I’ve been [in L.A.] 25 years now, and I’ve seen it grow. L.A. is fucking cool.
Q | What is your relationship to cannabis? How do you use it in your creative endeavors?
A: Growing up in NorCal, weed was always around. When I was super young, in Grass Valley and Chico, in the mountains—it wasn’t talked about. But it was clear that it was around. As it’s been getting more and more popular, the legal and the illegal are starting to even out a little bit . . . It will be legal here in January 2018—relatively soon—and I think it is what it is. I think it’s a good thing. It’s funny, too, ‘cause I know a lot of L.A. people that would never have anything to do with marijuana, and now they want someone to pick them up oil or a CBD product. Or they need a product for their dog. It’s truly weird, because I feel like I always grew up around pot . . . I do think it makes you more creative. Who knows, I come to work every day whether I am stoned or not. I was a heavier user earlier on in my career, when I was younger. Now I appreciate the days that I get to do it a little bit more.