Kennedy Yanko’s Poetic Fusion of Metal and “Paint Skin”

03.23.23 | By
Kennedy Yanko’s Poetic Fusion of Metal and “Paint Skin”

Brooklyn-based artist Kennedy Yanko uses salvaged metal and blanket-like “paint skins” to create incredible artworks that challenge the definition of painting and perfectly balance a range of oppositions. Her current exhibition Humming on Life presents 10 new artworks on view at Jeffery Deitch in New York through April 22nd.

Installation image with 3 works.

Kennedy Yanko’s “Humming on Life” at Jeffery Deitch, NYC, installation

Blue "paint skin" detail within "What we re-quire is / silence"

What we re-quire is / silence, 2023 (detail)

Metal feels weightless, refuse becomes beautiful, and paint breaks free from canvas. The “paint skins” in Yanko’s work are literally just paint – first created flat and then draped over, between, and within the crushed metal. The fabric-like folds and crushed-metal dents echo each other while both feel organically matched – as if the two elements have somehow grown together.

"Pink and green music" on wall

Pink and green music, 2023

detail of pink folds within "Pink and green music"

Pink and green music, 2023 (detail)

"Breath of the earth" sculpture

Breath of the earth, 2023

Detail of red folds within sculpture "Breath of the earth"

Breath of the earth, 2023 (detail)

These new 2023 works add a new layer to her process. On previous works, the color of the paint skins was inspired by an existing color on the found metal: perhaps a lime green from oxidized copper or a burgundy from a small patch of rust. But in these new works, Kennedy has introduced the act of painting onto the metal itself with more colors before pieces are fire-cut and additionally crushed. This process introduces more complex color interactions while maintaining a contrast of time and texture between the elements.

Sculpture "Imprint of three states" rests on the floor next to "A Persistence of memory"

Kennedy Yanko’s “Humming on Life” at Jeffery Deitch, NYC, installation

Detail of orange folds within "Imprint of three states"

Imprint of three states, 2023 (detail)

Besides the towering scale (some are over 7 feet wide or 8 feet tall), the play with gravity may be the most surprising element when viewing these in real life. Somehow the large metal chunks feel as if they’re levitating, even the sculptures on the floor feel like they’re about to lift off. Meanwhile the paint skins are fully engaged with gravity, finding their shape through their own weight and scaffolding of the metal. It all contributes a sense of wonder and curiosity.

"A persistence of memory" on the wall

A persistence of memory, 2023

Two works on the wall of Kennedy Yanko's "Humming on Life" at Jeffery Deitch

Kennedy Yanko’s “Humming on Life” at Jeffery Deitch, NYC, installation

Detail of orange folds of "Swelling to sound"

Swelling to sound, 2023 (detail)

Kennedy Yanko’s work is a beautiful dance of oppositions: a pairing of past and present, flexible and ridged, color and material, gravity and levitation.

If you want to hear Kennedy’s story in her own words and get a peak at her whole process in her studio, I highly recommend this 7-minute video segment from CBS Mornings. Then run to this current exhibition to be immersed in the magnetism of these works.

Two works from "Humming on Life" installation at Jeffery Deitch

Kennedy Yanko’s “Humming on Life” at Jeffery Deitch, NYC, installation

What: Kennedy Yanko: Humming on Life
Where: Jeffery Deitch, 18 Wooster Street, NYC
When: March 4 – April 22, 2023

Installation photographs by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York.
Single artwork photographs by Martin Parsekian.
Detail photographs by author, David Behringer.

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.