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b. 1988, United States

Kennedy Yanko Biography

Kennedy Yanko is an American sculptor, painter, and installation artist whose works speak to the process-driven mantra of the Abstract Expressionists, whilst simultaneously engaging in the physicality of her unique materials—scrap metal and 'paint skin'. In 2021, Yanko was the first sculptor to be awarded a residency at the Rubell Museum, Miami.

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Early Years

Yanko was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was exposed to art at an early age through her father, who was an architect, painter, and a 'true, true, true colourist.'

Moving to New York in her early 20s, Yanko lived and worked at the renowned experimental theatre company The Living Theatre after leaving part-way through her degree in painting and art history at the San Francisco Art Institute. Yanko credits the three years she spent performing with the company as where her 'artist self' truly emerged. During this time, she also worked as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, and competed as a bodybuilder to earn a living, providing her with the physicality and strength needed to complete her monumental sculptures.

Kennedy Yanko Artworks

Referring to her works as 'paintings', Kennedy Yanko's practice revolves around a kind of meditative choreography that occurs as she wraps her malleable paint skins—a concoction of paint and latex—around their found-metal frame. Her work primarily concentrates on colour, according to which she selects her initial scrap metal, and hinges around the juxtaposition and beauty that results in the union of her disparate mediums.


At the age of 20, Yanko created the series 'Wu-Wei' (2009) for Abstrakt Gallery, St. Louis, which became the impetus for transporting paint off the canvas. Inspired by the Daoist concept of 'wu-wei' or 'effortless action', these early works were comprised of layer upon layer of paint pours, through which Yanko moved her brush to produce 'fractal details'. Creating the works in her parents' garage, Yanko left a painting on the slightly slanted floor overnight and returned the next morning to see that some of the paint had dried off the canvas. The almost autonomous change of mediums attracted Yanko to the materiality of paint and inspired her to give it a life of its own.

A Metal Backbone

After growing tired of working with paint skins alone, Yanko apprenticed at an iron-welding factory near her studio in Bushwick in 2016, and was taught how to cut, bend, and mould sheet metal. This eventually lead her to search scrapyards across the East Coast to find metal that would provide the 'skeletal system' for her skins. Her treatment of the found metal warped the original object almost beyond recognition—bar the logos and warning signs still visible on the metal pieces—making it appear at once monumental and weightless. In her series 'HANNAH' (2019), which references Yanko's full name, Hannah Elizabeth Kennedy Yanko, the metal is folded in on itself quite compactly as the paint skin drapes loosely from within like natural phenomena.

Salient Queens

In 2020, Yanko created the series 'Salient Queens' for Vielmetter, Los Angeles, which was inspired by funk icon Betty Davis and other women in her life who taught her 'how to take up space'. Each sculpture is named after an influential woman and is representative of the physical and emotional sensation corresponding to her. Micky (2020) is named after the artist Mickalene Thomas, who ushered Yanko into the art world through her 'openness and generosity' and is represented by a cool green-grey metal grate with duck-egg blue paint skin emerging out across the space, almost like a waterfall.

Other Work

Since establishing herself as an artist, Yanko has also expanded into other performing avenues, making her onscreen debut in Spike Lee's TV show She's Gotta Have It (2017—2019), which wove her fictionalised character with her sculptural works. She also modelled for the fashion label Pyer Moss, walking the runway in their inaugural couture show. In 2021, Yanko created an NFT with musician Masego, who created a musical accompaniment for her sculpture Purity (2018).

Public Commissions

From 2019 to 2020, Yanko produced the installation Our Valence for Art in Buildings by Time Equities in Detroit. From 2019 to 2021, Yanko was also commissioned to create the sculpture 3 Ways for the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition, New Orleans.

Awards and Accolades

From 2009 to 2012, Yanko was the Resident Performer for The Living Theatre, New York. In 2010, she was awarded the Artist Residency at the Atlantic Center of the Arts led by Rick Lowe in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 2013, Yanko was awarded the Artist Residency for Idiosyncrasy Gallery, New York and again in 2017 at Fountainhead, Miami and 2018 at Galería Leyendecker, Tenerife.

In 2018, she was a nominee for the Emerging Artist Grant, Rema Hort Mann Foundation. In 2018 and 2019, she was also a nominee for the Painters & Sculptors Grant Program, Joan Mitchell Foundation. In 2019, Yanko won the Colene Brown Art Prize, BRIC Arts Media. In 2020, she was a finalist for the Creative Time Open Call, Creative Time. In 2021, Yanko was the Artist in Residence at Rubell Museum, Miami.


Kennedy Yanko has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include Three Generations, Salon 94, New York (2021); Postcapitalist Desire, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York (2021); Salient Queens, VIELMETTER, Los Angeles (2020); Because it's in my blood, Galleria Poggiali, Milan (2020); Before Words, Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA), Grand Rapids (2019).

Group exhibitions include We Are More Than A Moment, MCLA BCRC/Gallery 51, North Adams (2020); Life During WarTime, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa (2020); ABSTRACT! From Minimalism to Now, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York (2020); IMPLIED BODY, ASSEMBLY ROOM, New York (2019); Harlem Perspectives, The Faction Art Space, New York (2019).

Website and Instagram

Yanko's website can be found here and her Instagram can be found here.

Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2021

Kennedy Yanko
featured artworks

SK4 by Kennedy Yanko contemporary artwork sculpture
Kennedy Yanko SK4, 2020 Paint skin and metal
17.8 x 40.6 x 38.1 cm
Kavi Gupta
Creamy Haze by Kennedy Yanko contemporary artwork sculpture
Kennedy Yanko Creamy Haze, 2020 Paint skin and metal
88.9 x 116.8 x 67.3 cm
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Push by Kennedy Yanko contemporary artwork sculpture
Kennedy Yanko Push, 2020 Paint skin and metal
114.3 x 73.7 x 34.3 cm
Kavi Gupta Request Price & Availability
Oarsman by Kennedy Yanko contemporary artwork sculpture
Kennedy Yanko Oarsman, 2020 Metal, paint skin, and tape
198.9 x 109.2 x 57.7 cm
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