We had the good fortune of connecting with Matt Kennedy and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matt, what’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
For me, the most difficult decisions I’ve made have been to leave comfortable situations to embark on endeavors with no guarantees. I’ve done it more than once, and it was never the wrong decision, The immediate consequences and the degree of upheaval have varied greatly, but each situation called for change and presented an opportunity that could only be embraced without a safety net. The benefits haven’t always been immediate, but I’ve never considered following my bliss to be risky. As I look back past all the hard work and situational motivations, I find that my choices have been abundantly reinforced by the long-term results, I’ve also had the good fortune to work for and with some extraordinary people, and it’s always hard to leave a great team to go solo, so to speak.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Because the art I create with my Panik Collective is based around nostalgia and a love for music and books and comics and film, it’s probably important to mention that I’m sort of the Forrest Gump of pop-culture. I’ve had either the dumb luck or calculated savvy to be at the right places at the right times for much of my life, and that allowed me to meet and befriend a lot of interesting and talented people. I had the opportunity to work-with and learn-from Peter Christopherson, Tony Scott, Miles Copeland, and others who helped shape my sense of what was possible. Working for Billy Shire as a college drop-out from Massachusetts in my late teens exposed me to art in a tangible way. But it also introduced me to an incredible band of misfits that ranged from former Warhol Factory players to musicians on the cusp of fame to other young people (like myself) who didn’t have a plan but were hungry for experiences. Melrose was the epicenter of a new D.I.Y. vibe that brought together painters and performers and writers and producers and it seemed like everyone had at least three jobs. I moonlit at a nightclub that was goth, gay, industrial, gangster, and glam –depending on the night of the week. I also clerked a video store to give the owner a day off every Sunday. Mel Brooks “discovered” me on register one afternoon, and I started acting, which became a very lucrative career for about a decade.
Whenever I was on set I’d try to learn from everyone. I’d ask the DP about lenses and cameras. I’d ask the director about preparation. I’d ask the writers and agency folks about their pitches. I’d offer to run lines for other projects with my fellow actors. It was a paid crash course in entertainment that was also inherently a kind of networking, and those relationships are very important. It’s a lot easier to ask for help if you’ve been helpful, yourself, but I was really all about learning whatever I could. The most important thing I learned, though, was that spotting talent is a talent unto itself. Knowledge really is power, but it has to be coupled with timing and intent. There are a lot of very talented people who don’t always catch the right breaks and just a few words of encouragement can be the difference between a triumph and a tragedy. I haven’t always caught those breaks, but I never let it turn me bitter, and I always found a way to turn the a disappointment into some kind of art or statement about art.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As a transplant, I’ve lived all over Los Angeles, but at this point I’ve been in Pasadena for longer than all the other places added together, and I love the strange, almost occult history to this city. It’s got the energy of the crossroads, and certainly there is an intersection of cultures from the San Gabriel Valley that lend Pasadena a versatility that is absent from most other pockets of the greater Los Angeles area. If we had an ocean or a river this really would be the Garden of Eden. But as is, there is a walkable, neighborhood feel to the entire city. We’ve got a lot of trees and nature, but also a robust town center. There are museums and libraries and parks and hiking trails, and colleges and nightlife and some of the best food in California. My wife, who is a Sci-Arc grad, abandoned architecture to pursue design and cuisine. She’s now an executive sushi chef with a rabid following, so I’d be sure to book a bento box or sushi dinner via her @chefai.la instagram account. I’d be sure to give any out-of-town guests a tour of our Gallery 30 South, which is the culmination of my decades in the arts and also a boutique for my wife’s @insomniajewelry line.
At some point I would take friends to Alexander’s Steakhouse, where as one of the founding members of the Bull & Barrel Whisky Club, I’d arrange a flight of Scotch, Bourbon & Rye from the bottles in my locker and order a Miyazaki filet and some hamachi shots. We would also have to visit Sally, Rae, and Wendy over at Monopole Wines, and maybe take in a performance at the Pasadena Playhouse next door. In case it’s not evident, food is a very big part of what I love about living here, and I try to introduce as many visitors as possible to the best kept secret in town. Right now that is the lunch pricing at chef Kevin Meehan’s Kali restaurant near Larchmont Village. No trip to Hollywood is complete without a visit to Wacko in Los Feliz, and that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Griffith Observatory. A visit to Peter Shire’s Echo Park Pottery for an espresso and great conversation is also a must. If I were to go further west, Arcana Books in Culver City is like my church, and we could gallery hop on La Cienega at Blum & Poe and elsewhere. On the drive back to Pasadena, I’d be sure to take the Colorado Street Bridge and then drive along Orange Grove and double back along the Arroyo wash on San Pascual to the Butterfly preserve. We could then drive east to walk the campus of Caltech and visit the turtle pond. Walking back toward the gallery we could stop at Grant Park to see a playground attraction designed by Caltech engineers and then grab a coffee and the best BLT I’ve ever had at Ginger Market.
I sometimes give a dusk tour of the Devil’s Gate Dam (weather permitting) that recounts the legend of Jack Parsons. That’s not far from the Mountain View Mortuary in Altadena, which is absolutely gorgeous and that presents an opportunity to visit Bulgarini’s for the world’s best gelato on the way back. A margarita at Mercado and their delicious carnitas would be a great dinner after all that. The weekend brunch at The Terrace in the Langham Huntington Hotel is elegant as is the daily brunch at Julienne in San Marino, which could be followed by a visit to the grounds at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens to see their excellent collection of modern and contemporary art in the new Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art (as well as their world-famous rose garden). No visit to Pasadena is complete without sampling the great food of the SGV: Bahn Mi My Tho in Alhambra, Pho Filet in South El Monte, Shinsengumi Hakata Ramen in Rosemead, Tokyo Fried Chicken and Huge Tree in Monterey Park. A trip to nearby Burbank for Pablitos Tacos and Kalinka Russian cuisine and then back to Pasadena for the egg and chorizo burrito at Burrito Express would give any visitor to So Cal a wider idea of the embarrassment of digestive riches to which we are privy.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Billy Shire deserves the same type of recognition generally reserved for rock stars or heads of state. He transformed a family business (built ostensibly on soap, incense, and essential oils) into one of the truly most influential retail spaces–and he did it before the explosion of the internet, His shops and his gallery helped bring art to the masses in an egalitarian, un-intimidating environment. It was the Mecca of counterculture cool in Los Angeles, and to have had the privilege of working there in the 90s and then coming back to direct the gallery from the late 2000s through most of the 2010s is a debt I could never repay.
Other: www.popsequentialism.com www.panikcollective.com