Kenny Rivero: Palm Oil, Rum, Honey, Yellow Flowers

March 18 - June 13, 2021

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit

Drawing has been a part of Kenny Rivero’s life for as long as he can remember. It is a parallel process that goes beyond the notion of drawings as preparatory studies or sketches for paintings and forms a key element of his artistic practice. Living alongside him in his studio, Rivero’s drawings serve as a visual record, a system of notation he has devised to document his life as he revisits the drawings over time. 

The drawings in this exhibit are imbued with history and personal significance. Rivero often uses found paper for his drawings: flyleaves from paperbacks, record album liners, pages from a family photo album. The delicate, friable nature of some of the materials—never intended to withstand aging or environmental stressors—means that the physical size of the works changes over time, as acid paper dries and degrades. The work has a finite lifespan, further conveying the ideas of passing time, personal narrative, and documentation of fleeting moments and interactions.

— Sarah Freeman, Curator

Even when I was a kid, I would put my toys away one at a time. In this way, I ensured their care, safety, attention, love, and place. I didn’t want any of my toys to feel neglected and would feel actual guilt if there were any toys that I didn’t include in something.

I’m only realizing this now, but I approach my drawings with the same sensibility and care. Any drawing I’ve made, or will make, is part of the same collection. All my drawings know each other and are only as powerful as the family of drawings (not series) they exist within. They live in piles in my studio and are dependent on one another but are also very autonomous. 

As I’m understanding them so far, the works in this body of drawings point directly to death, violence, fear, faith, spirituality, war, and magic. The setting is an abstracted landscape informed by the people, architecture, culture, and aesthetics of Washington Heights in New York (more broadly, the culture of uptown and the Bronx) and the Dominican Republic (more specifically, Santiago and the Cibáo). 

The work is autobiographical, and I’m invested in building a knowledge of self as it relates to a variety of themes that include, but are not limited to: 

  • Masculinity, love, and depression as cultural and generational legacies
  • The cultural materialities and symbologies of Dominican/Dominican American manhood in relation to femininity 
  • The performance of sexuality in public as well as domestic spaces
  • The overlaps that occur between sexual conditioning and sexual trauma
  • Ancestry, spirituality, and matriarchy
  • Abstraction as a language that acutely quantifies cultural trauma and cultural resilience
  • Afro-Caribbean faith
  • Anglo-Caribbean sensibilities
  • Mythology
  • Physics
  • Cosmology
  • Afro-Futurism

The drawings are not:

  • Sketches or plans for other works
  • Archival. They are falling apart constantly, and rightly so.
  • Finished or unfinished

The drawings do not:

  • Support my painting practice, they support me

The drawings are:

  • My first language
  • Hard to look through but exciting to read and interpret
  • A space for me to reflect and contend with ideas I can’t clearly articulate in painting or writing

Materially, the surface accumulations, patinas, and historical aura of reclaimed material allow me to reflect on the past (my own and that of others) and engage with it in a tangible way. I have collections of reclaimed paper that eventually become collage elements in my paintings and supports for my drawings. In reclaimed material, I’m interested in how the energies and identities contained by certain objects and surfaces can come together to form new things with new pasts and flexible futures.

The accumulations of paint resulting from the restoration of public and domestic spaces, discarded industrial material, or the salvaged blank pages from old books are catalysts for the painting-objects and works on paper I produce and the stories I tell. As a child, I would intentionally hack away at my bedroom wall to reveal evidence of the apartment’s past lives and imagine the stories linked to the colors I would find. Paint chips from the apartment I grew up in are a common material in my work, and my practice owes a great deal to the physical evidence of history and memory.

 Kenny Rivero


April 29, Thursday, 7 p.m. Conversation: Kenny Rivero, Charles Moffett, and Michael Jevon Demps
May 15, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Celebration of Spring Exhibits


Photo Gallery
Virtual tour
Ask the Artist!


Lost & Found: Kenny Rivero Redraws a Personal Landscape of New York – Elephant (3/29/21)
Kenny Rivero | Palm Oil, Rum, Honey, Yellow Flowers at BMAC – Flaunt (3/19/21)
Kenny Rivero Is Painting the Monsters We Choose to Ignore – Interview Magazine (3/17/21)