Kenny and Sanford first met in the schoolyard at St. Peter Catholic School in Trenton in the late 1970’s. Kenny was in grade five; Sanford was a few years behind. “He was always being bullied,” says Kenny. “He got kicked a lot.” Then Sanford discovered karate. He still got kicked in the schoolyard, but now he encouraged it. It was good training. In high school, the two weren’t close, but they played some football together. “I always liked him,” says Kenny.
Years went by and a whole lot of living for both men, not much of it easy. Kenny found a release in punk rock and painting. Sanford stuck with karate and later discovered art. “It’s the same area of the brain,” he says. “Whether you’re carving or kicking someone in the head, it’s the same headspace.”
One day Sanford saw a detail from one of Kenny’s paintings posted on Facebook, the haunting figure of a refugee. He asked Kenny if he could carve it. “I didn’t even know he carved,” say Kenny, “but he carved it. He got it.”
It led to a reunion. “We both found ourselves back in this region that molded us,” says Sanford. They decided to put a show together with Kenny’s paintings and Sanford’s carvings. Kenny came up with the title and theme: Kiss or Kill Time. They agreed not to discuss what it meant until they were each finished with the work for the show. “I just let it fester and fester,” says Sanford. Kenny sent tracks of his music for Sanford to listen to. “It was a long way from what I was used to,” says Sanford, who describes his own aesthetic as Zen, “but there’s a real punk influence to the pieces I’ve created for this show.”
“It’s such a divisive time right now,” says Kenny. “Everything has got a life or death consequence, from politics to a Facebook post, and either one could end in violence. People are just ready to go off. I’ve chosen a lot of images of strong women for this show because of the politics of the times. Women have reached their point. They’ve reached their ‘Travis Bickle’ moment. That’s Kiss or Kill Time.”
“Fire the bullet, work on the aim after the fact,” is how Sanford puts it.
Immigration is another side to Kiss or Kill Time. The painting that brought the two men together is based on a statue at the foot of Bathurst Street in Toronto. “The rest of the area looks more like a fallout shelter than a place where art should be,” says Kenny.
Moving back to Trenton after living for a year in Toronto made it difficult for Kenny not to think about the issues facing immigrants in Canada. “In Kensington, no one is from here. They’re all running away from something. There’s not a whole lot of uniformed, racist talk about immigration, because everyone’s an immigrant.”
Kiss or Kill Time is the first gallery show for Sanford. “I’ve never done anything until I’ve done it,” he says when we wrap up our interview and I’m left wondering whether it’s the Zen or the punk influence showing through.
Kiss or Kill Time runs from April 26 to June 16 at artists & artisans gallery, 54 Bridge Street East, Belleville, with an opening reception on May 2 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.