Artist Kennedy Yanko on Creating Tribute Piece for Nas x Hennessy

In August, Hennessy celebrated Hip-Hop’s momentous 50th birthday with a special event and collaboration with Nas. The legendary rapper was invited to collaborate with the brand on a special limited edition V.S bottle. Nas’s creation pays homage not only to the birthplace of hip-hop at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx but also encapsulates the shared essence of Hennessy and hip-hop.

To commemorate Nas and Hip-Hop’s milestone, Hennessy commissioned the talented sculptor, painter, and installation artist, Kennedy Yanko, to craft an exclusive copper sculpture, a bespoke art piece that was presented to Nas during his 50th birthday celebration in New York City. As an extension of this tribute to both Nas and the Hip-Hop movement, Hennessy produced a limited collection of 20 mini sculptures, also designed by Kennedy Yanko, which will be available for purchase by the public here. These timeless pieces will be offered in the price range of $6,500 to $7,000 USD.

Yanko is the renowned NY-based artist who is known for utilizing “paint skins” and found metal to create captivating works of art. The artist sources and salvages discarded objects and other materials from salvage yards to construct sculptures and installations that blur the lines between figuration and abstraction. We connected with Yanko to discuss her practice and the collaboration. Read our exclusive interview below.

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Can you tell us how you go about your art process and the methods you use objects from salvage yards to give your sculptures and installations an abstract and surreal look? 

I always begin with a feeling, an intention. I spend time walking around the metal yard looking — looking for material, and trying to understand what it’s asking for. So much of my practice is about listening to the work and then taking action. Sometimes the work asks me to do things I’m not interested in doing, but I know it’s going to make the work great. It’s about putting myself between the information and the doing. 

Your one-of-a-kind copper sculpture is all about giving props to Nas and the hip-hop journey. What’s the backstory that inspired you to create this piece and how does it capture hip-hop’s shift from being seen as controversial to becoming a major part of our culture? 

When I learned that Hennessy would be honoring Nas with this 50 Years of Hip Hop tribute, I was excited to have a part in that. Through this sculpture for Nas I’m speaking artist to artist, medium to medium, genre to genre. I approached the sculpture the best way I know how: through my materials. With copper and paint skin, I worked through my understanding of the moment — of Nas’ legacy and contributions. He’s the most true maker, someone who’s dedicated himself to his art. Look what he’s done and is doing. 

“Make space and practice making space for the work to truly show itself.”

You mentioned your sculpture is like a space for hip-hop to reflect. Could you break down how your artistic practice acts as a sort of platform for the stories and changes in hip-hop over the years?
This sculpture is a capsule and a gesture. I hope it’s received as an offering towards the immense power and immeasurable impact Nas and Hip Hop have made on our everyday way of life. 

You explore a lot about life’s ups and downs in your art. What are the big ideas or messages you think people can pick up from your work, and what’s the vibe you hope folks get when they check out your art? 

I deeply hope that when people experience my work, that they take time to explore it and don’t necessarily try to understand it, but just experience it. Experience the color, experience the shape, experience the form. Let it talk and do its thing. Make space and practice making space for the work to truly show itself. 

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