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SAIC Graduate Three Years into Residency at Parents’ House

Artist Kenneth Wells takes his practice and crushing student debt to childhood home.

By F+


illustration by Zach Cooper

In January 2013, Kenneth Wells, graduate of the painting and drawing department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) accepted a residency at his parents’ home in Greensboro, NC. Three years into the program, Wells seems to be finding his stride.

“I deal with themes of youth and memory in my work, and I utilize personal ephemera a lot. Being in a space so familiar to me provides interesting avenues to explore. My mother has kept all of my tee ball trophies and this Lion King blanket, so it would be interesting to do something with those,” Wells said.

He started the search for residencies after his graduation in May 2012, but felt that many of the programs didn’t address his specific needs. Wells explained, “I was ideally looking for low-cost housing and a place to come to terms with my massive student debt.”

Wells’ mother, Susan, was a part of the two-person committee that made the decision to offer the residency to Wells. She spoke of the highly selective process saying, “Kenny is our only son. We love him very much, and we always wanted him to come back to Greensboro. It’s so cold up there!”

Although Wells is trained as a painter, he made quite the impression on his parents during his time at SAIC with his provocative performance series titled, “Hey Mom. I Need Some Help With the Rent.” In the series, Wells texted and called his mother and father — oftentimes without having spoken to them in weeks — just to ask for money.

Wells said of the series, “I wanted to investigate a particular element of human interaction. Trust. Would these people interacting with my practice actually give me money? I also wanted to understand how the cell phone was mediating this interaction. Especially when you consider that they were also paying for that.”

When asked if he was looking to continue his residency, Wells said he was exploring his options. He spoke of potentially taking up another residency with his grandparents in Charlotte.

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