Q&A with Kenn Coplan, the Local "Quack Artist" Showing at the Smithsonian this Summer

"Ask the Man in the Hat" by Kenn Coplan
"Ask the Man in the Hat" by Kenn Coplan
Photos courtesy of www.kcpla.com

Self-described "Quack Artist" Kenn Coplan is like a futuristic carnival sideshow barker from a parallel universe, driven into the Arizona desert on an endless quest for trash.

The 39-year-old transplant from L.A. (not quite a parallel universe) treasures our ravaged beer cans, discarded car batteries, and sun-bleached bicycle seats. Because in his hands, they become laser guns, angel sculptures, and even a ghoulish, fully functional fortune telling machine called "CYTON."

Coplan's shown his artwork and pseudo-science contraptions locally at places like Evermore Nevermore in Mesa and Artspace in Scottsdale. This summer, his work will also be featured in the "Revealing Culture" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's International Gallery in Washington, D.C., opening June 9.

Not bad for a guy whose influences are "Copernicus, P.T. Barnum, and a more hygienic Rasputin." We recently caught up with Coplan to talk about his art, his learning disability, and his worst week ever.

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How did you come to Arizona?
Well, I thought my move to Arizona was going to be temporary. I was living in Los Angeles [in 2009] and working on film production. And then, in one week in L.A., my car got destroyed in a hit and run, I lost my job, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I got evicted. So I bought a new car and came to stay with my parents in Phoenix, and I put all my art and supplies in storage. But then in Phoenix, my new car got stolen and my storage unit got robbed. I lost about $30,000 of art and equipment. So now I'm sort of stuck here. I don't mind it.

Why did you start hunting trash in the desert to make art?
My latest art came from being poor. It comes from a lack of material and money to buy material. But the more I walked around the desert, the more I fell in love with these rusty, beautiful, tormented objects. It's the beauty of the decay, the symbols of rebirth and transportation. We came from dust, and we'll return to dust. I wanted to use these objects and give them a sort of second life. Because everybody wants new. It's the cult of the new. The only way we can sustain our society is consumption. And then consumption leads to a lot of trash. I can never make enough art to get rid of all the trash.

Tell us about your learning disability and how it affects your art.
I have dysgraphia. It's a neurological disorder that affects spelling and grammar. I was also born with a club foot. Anyway, [dysgraphia] made it hard for me to communicate verbally and on paper, so I expressed myself visually. My learning disability is not a disability, it's a tool. I can't communicate in written word, so I manipulate things in my physical world. I consider myself an instrument maker, like Frankenstein.

To learn more about Kenn Coplan's art and upcoming exhibitions, visit www.kcpla.com.

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