Q&A with Long Beach based artists Kenny & Anna McBride - pop surrealism in fine art, murals, and live painting

"I think the impact of art and music is incalculable. When we see a beautiful genius such as John Lennon be killed or even an outspoken band like Pussy Riot be arrested for protest, we unfortunately see the darkest impacts of the power of truth. In instances that are few and far between, Art and Music will gather the masses and inspire greatness and possibly change."

Kenny & Anna McBride Arts:

Inspiring People in Their Spaces

McBride Arts offers Murals, Fine Art, & Painting Workshops; founded by Long Beach based artists Kenny & Anna McBride. Kenny McBride is a pop surrealist who specializes in fine art, murals, live painting, and art workshop instruction. Fifth generation Californian, he has lived in Long Beach since 2015. Kenny attended Orange County School of the Arts, majoring in Visual Arts, where he was educated in fine art, figure drawing, and animation. Highly involved in the community, he has held residencies at Art X and then Made by Millworks, and often shows his art in various establishments throughout SoCal. Kenny’s passion has grown into starting a family business called McBride Arts, where he teamed up with his wife & fellow artist, Anna. Together they offer murals, fine art commissions, and painting workshops for public and private parties. With over 30 completed murals, his work sites range from public bridges, businesses, restaurants, churches, schools and residences. He specializes in trompe l’oeil murals, transforming flat walls into 3D worlds with photorealistic details and impactful illusions. Utilizing unique and varying perspectives to build symbolic narratives of other worlds, Kenny’s characters and storylines invoke a sense of stepping into a bright and fantastic dream.

Kenny’s motivation to do art began in childhood with the pursuit to illustrate his imagination and evolved to inspire the viewer to get lost in their own imagination, heal, transform space, engage critical thought and most often, to just smile. His fine art is playful and approachable, executed with a variety of technique and mediums. Color and imagination are at the core of the artist’s style. Often times, Kenny paints onto canvas in acrylic and enhances the surface by adding multimedia elements such as clay, paper, pastel, glitter and various other mixing mediums. Plein Air is also his regular pastime, as Kenny finds the practice meditative and informative to study natural lighting, colors and movement.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Artworks © by Kenny & Anna Bride

How has the art and counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Anna: Growing up in OC, California was beautiful, temperate, and at times uninspiring.  Art became my refuge from the shiny cars and plastic smiles. Eventually, I found my place at Orange County High School of the Arts, and later escaped the Orange Curtain to Merced, where I studied at the University of California. Being the newest UC, there was yet to be an art major, so I picked the next best thing: sociology, philosophy and writing. 

A call to Occupy rang across the nation, and an activist emerged within me to answer. Together we reclaimed our public spaces where people of all backgrounds can exchange in dialogue and experiences. This counterculture transformed me into a more empathetic listener of others experiences and fueled my passion to demand justice as we explored the full extent of our first amendment rights. I attended Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, NYC where I recorded my qualitative experiences as a participant observer for the UC history department archives.  There I attended facilitation training in consensus democracy with techniques passed down from the Anti-War movement. I witnessed a group of 600 New Yorkers reach a stance of 99% consensus on controversial discourse only using facilitation, our voices to mic check the speaker, and hands signals to communicate efficiently. Back in Merced, I implemented training to other facilitators, and together we successfully and peacefully occupied our camping tents in front the UC library for 2 semesters in a row. Our blatant display of civil disobedience was well received yet perplexing to our small university. We held teach-ins on civil rights, corruption, and solutions, as well as general assemblies were the public are invited to discuss local grievances, determine plan of action, and reach a consensus where at least 99% of the group has agreed. We successfully saved 6 students a year of rent, contributed to the stop in tuition increases system-wide, and established a grant scholarship that provides housing to students experiencing homelessness.

After graduating, we then moved to Long Beach in hopes of exploring more creative opportunities. Kenny had an art studio at the Art Exchange, where we practiced, held art shows, taught classes and discussed our art with peers. There we honed our practice and explored dialog and growth in a community of other artists, all while both working full time to pay the bills. Eventually the commissions grew more frequent and larger in scale, and we slowly stepped out our regular jobs to create art together full time.

Kenny: Growing up in a broken family and in a rough trailer park it was easy to see the world as mean. In retrospection I’ve come to realize that spending childhood lost in imagination and drawing was in turn providing critical self-affirmation. Art has allowed me to be self-empowered and driven, even in the hardest times. Counterculture is important and several subcultures have sprinkled my journey to this point. Living on the streets, in my car, in my studio, in a tent, all allowed me plenty of firsthand experiences in experiencing so many varied perceptions of reality. It is astonishing how fast the concept of a calendar will disappear if you feel no urgency to mark the day. It is nurturing to study in a scholarly setting and rewarding to in turn share your knowledge and unique insights. It is exhilarating to live in communal and creative situations, fueled by others effervescent inspiration. It is humbling to occupy with others, who fight for their rights and a sense of optimism when bridging dialogue with local politicians and thought leaders.

"Music and Art are also being revolutionized through the use of open content and access throughout the International community. For the first time in history, the common person can both receive and contribute to the larger dialog of art and music." (Love Beyond Borders / © McBride Arts)

Do you consider the murals/street art a specific artwork and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Anna: Murals and street art are an artistic movement that brings art to the community and transforms our public spaces. Traditionally, art could only be accessed in museums, gallery, or personal collections of the wealthy. I see murals and street art as a movement for working class artists. This lineage comes from the New Deal Era Works Progress Act from 1935-1943, where artists were employed to create murals, paintings, sculpture, graphic art, photography and teaching. This program employed as many as 10,000 working class artists and revitalized the nation in recovery from the Great Depression. Public art beautifies our community and contributes to the narrative of our cultural heritage.

Mural art is also a state of mind. As a public artist, I draw inspiration from the community I am serving. This counters the traditional practice of creating fine art inspired to make a statement about oneself to a narrow audience. The art also expresses my empathy to the working class, who can benefit from visual inspiration without taking time from their busy days to seek art.

Kenny: The hardest part of creating seems to be that the older and more integrated with societies current values one becomes, the more difficult it is to be a creative individual. I was stunningly aware of this by at least age sixteen, as I was obsessed with guitar virtuosity. Concerningly and all to often I would run across ex guitarist that are now responsible adults, lamenting that they had not stuck with it and had relinquished their ownership over their passion somewhere along the journey of growing up. For me personally, my challenge is to create art that requires no dialogue from myself. I prefer my artwork to be large, in front of people and space specific with the intent to inspire people into inspiring others.

How important was music in your life and artwork? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Anna: Even as a non-musician, music is an integral part of my life and artistic inspiration. I listen to the music that resonates with my current situation. Music, much like art, is a language that speaks to something much more than words alone, it is the art of feeling. The vibrations and the rhythm are received on a physical level, while the lyrics and tone guide my wandering mind. When I’m listening to music from different eras I like to think about how they are a timestamp in creation, transmitting the listener to the mind and heart of the musician. For that moment in time, we resonate together. Whatever I’m feeling, whether positive or negative, music always seems to make me feel better.

Kenny: Music revitalized me, starting in 9th grade, my first year at an art high school. It was amazing to have the education so young but as also young people are prone, I didn’t care for assignments. Somewhere inside of me was not fulfilled any longer on an emotional level with my craft being output for grades. Playing guitar consumed my homework; six hours on weekdays and my entire weekends. After hardly graduating my only purpose was for music. What I have enjoyed most out of playing music is the being present that improvisation allows for. When events led to my rekindled passion for art it was my experience as a musician that guided my brush. The willingness to pick a few colors and a subject and just jam in the moment. If I failed it was ok because music taught me to do it fast and move on and no one else will notice.

"Mural art is also a state of mind. As a public artist, I draw inspiration from the community I am serving. This counters the traditional practice of creating fine art inspired to make a statement about oneself to a narrow audience. The art also expresses my empathy to the working class, who can benefit from visual inspiration without taking time from their busy days to seek art." (George Floyd / © McBride Arts)

What are your hopes and fears for the future of art? What do you love most about the working with children?

Anna: It’s privilege teaching children art. Kids are pure of heart and can easily jump into trying even if they are unsure. Every child is an artist. Sadly, when they get older many decide to stop trying and claim the title “non-artist”. This bears a heavy burden in my mind. I wonder if this lack of access to the creative arts contributes to an inequality of future working artists. Often the public schools where we work are underfunded and under-served, resulting in near elimination for art & music classes. It’s devastating to witness knowing how much happiness and self-affirmation one can receive from these subjects.

Personally, I have always had access to art classes and identified myself as an artist by the age of 13. I pursued all classes art related and attended a public charter, Orange County School of the Arts. I struggled as a teen, and art was always by bedrock and safe place. Much like a language that takes time to learn, art is a language of expression through knowledge of visual mediums and practiced skill of technique. The act of expressing through art can be cathartic, and it’s somber knowing the many children that truly could benefit are missing out on this opportunity of healing and expression.

Often times while painting at schools the children ask to help, to which we gladly encourage. It’s wonderful seeing them take ownership of the brush and feel proud to be an artist. Last year we led a public art mural project at Washington Middle School, where over 100 volunteers of students, parents, and community helped us paint. Kenny had created a “coloring book” style outline with “paint by numbers” by doting the color needed in each area. It was an exhilarating experience to see the shared ownership and affirmation gained by the whole community, solidifying our unity in contributing to our cultural heritage. My dream is to facilitate more collaborative public art projects and after school classes for those who don’t have access through public education.

Kenny: I don’t generally indulge in hope or fear as the feelings seem illusory. I would like to see art continue to stand for the human condition. History paintings, as made so popular proceeding the French Revolution give me concern. When art is used to document history, we must be concerned with who it is commissioned by. And so, in turn I am also inspired by artwork that reflects a single persons expression or even just a pursuit of mastery.

Working with children requires honesty and being self-critical. It is from this place of heart that I interact with children. It is rewarding to listen to their questions and important to answer them all.                                       (Photo: Anna & Kenny McBride)

"I would like to see how civilization would have unfolded had it been on Pangea. If our continents were not separated by water but rather, we were a single land surrounded by the sea it may be interesting to see how we would have navigated civilization in such a border less communal situation."

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in art?

Anna: It is a man’s world, as James Brown stated, and the plight of gender equality is constant, and requires working harder to get the same recognition and respect. What’s unique about visual art is it provides imagery without gender. My work speaks for itself, and also represents itself. When I introduce myself as an artist without my art, I can expect the interest or reaction to be baseline. That is unless they are another artist and interested in discussing our field. If I am painting or with my art, the reactions tend to be of excitement and interest. In this sense my identity is derived by both myself and my art. Misogyny is still rampant, and I don’t expect to change the stereotypes or assumptions of other, nor will I let them influence my sense of identity or ability. All I can do is create better art.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Kenny: I would like to see how civilization would have unfolded had it been on Pangea. If our continents were not separated by water but rather, we were a single land surrounded by the sea it may be interesting to see how we would have navigated civilization in such a border less communal situation. Often animals raised in close quarters are at peace where as two animals from separate backgrounds have a stronger chance at aggression. It would be a beautiful reality if we chose empathy and listening over ostracization.

Anything you'd like to say to David Bowie? What would you like to ask Lady Liberty (Statue of Liberty, NY)?

Anna: If you’re listening, David, thank you. Of his numerous qualities, he truly exemplified being authentic, dynamic, dedicated and steadfast in his creations. His bravery in self-expression through identity and creation paved the way for generations of artists and listeners to build upon. He was a true master of the arts, and one of the rare people whose legacy will continue to influence our culture for generations to come. David is now with the stars he had reached while back here on Earth.

I ask our Lady Liberty for mercy. Her beacon continues to shine to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and yet we have failed her by criminalizing impoverished immigrants and refusing refugees. The ancient lands and storied pomp she cried against has now become our America. Unless one is Native American, then they have an immigrant story in their family. I would also ask our Mother of Exiles to light the flame to grow brighter within our own nation and to lift her lamp beside the golden door of our White House.                                            (Martin Luther King & BB King / © McBride Arts)

"When events led to my rekindled passion for art it was my experience as a musician that guided my brush. The willingness to pick a few colors and a subject and just jam in the moment. If I failed it was ok because music taught me to do it fast and move on and no one else will notice."

What has touched (emotionally) you from B.B. King? What would you like to ask Martin Luther King?

Kenny: I’ve always been more impacted by the construction of notes over lyrics when it comes to music. B.B. King has a wonderful eloquence with his phrasing, not unlike a haiku, a limitless yet simple structure of expression. With so few notes and intelligent yet simple vamp’s true emotion seems to find exposition. I physically tense up at the sound of King’s heartfelt soul drenched and sustained bended notes. I’m thrilled to the point of goosebumps when he strikes an obtuse high note that seems to rebel from the otherwise calm. Overall, I appreciate the open space B.B. King’s music allows for you to both listen and self-reflect.

I would ask for Martin Luther King’s further wisdom on civil disobedience. He himself a staunch supporter of nonviolence and in light of recent events, I would ask how we can ensure violence does not infiltrate from outliers that would take advantage of civil disobedience.

What is the impact of music and art on the racial, political spiritual and socio-cultural implications?

Anna: Technology tends to lead to revolutions. The advent of birth control led to the Feminist movement. Social media and smart phones led to the Arab Spring. Music and Art are also being revolutionized through the use of open content and access throughout the International community. For the first time in history, the common person can both receive and contribute to the larger dialog of art and music. For the first time, the people have a platform that will both challenge and compete with the traditional industries and their business models.

This technology is also changing the way we create and consume our cultural narrative. Instead of the car radio or cds, the listener now has access to any type of music they desire. Similarly, art once reserved to the museum, gallery, or magazine is now easily viewed at the type of a keyword. It’s allowing for us to reach beyond our immediate surroundings to expand and personalize the cultural influence sought. Perhaps this will lead to a renaissance of cultural express and influence that blends the lines between styles, expression and region.

Kenny: I think the impact of art and music is incalculable. When we see a beautiful genius such as John Lennon be killed or even an outspoken band like Pussy Riot be arrested for protest, we unfortunately see the darkest impacts of the power of truth. In instances that are few and far between, Art and Music will gather the masses and inspire greatness and possibly change. If I was to comment on hope and fear once more, perhaps music and art is the most powerful way to make tangible the ambiguity of what we hope and fear.

McBride Art - Home

David Bowie & Jimi Hendrix / © McBride Arts

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