Preview: Kenbodesigns at Wilbur Vintage

A Philly artist debuts his apparel and prints on Fabric Row

Kennie Bowen of Kenbodesigns debuts a new line of art and apparel at Wilbur Vintage on Friday, May 20 (5 p.m.). For years we’ve been sporting the first incarnations of Kenbo T-shirts (and loving them), which is why we wanted to catch up with the Philly artist to find out what we can expect from the much anticipated show – he hasn’t exhibited his work in several years.

A portrait of the artist (click on images to enlarge)

Not only has Bowen stretched his design concepts over the years with more color and pattern, but the South Philly artist has created a unique pantheon of characters that may best be described as pop meets mythology.

Bowen, who’s known for his quick-witted patter and wizard knowledge of cinema thanks, in part, to his many years managing the former TLA Video just off of South Street, will be at the event to meet and greet fans – and to personally sign limited-edition prints. He gave G Philly the scoop on what makes him tick as an artist.

What’s the inspiration for your new show?

It’s a marriage of my two favorite things: beautiful mysterious ladies and charmingly creepy critters, but with an amped-up cuteness and color palette for a li’l summertime pop.

Compared to your early work, some of the new designs are much more colorful and detailed. What will we see at the show?

I’m most excited about the new T-shirts, and assorted four-packs of magnets and buttons, cards, prints, and as many one-off creations as I can finish before the show.

How would you describe your work?

Ha, I’m actually terrible at describing my work, so I sat down one afternoon, laid it all out before me, thought about everything that I saw in it and others had noted, and then started answering with “transmythoasiansymmetattoomonsterart” when asked. A friend once said to me, “You’re the only person I know who’d put lipstick on mandibles,” and I think that pretty much sums up my aesthetic.

What’s your creative process like? Do you draw by hand or do you use design programs?

I use more Photoshop than hand these days, though doodling always jump-starts my imagination. Most of my designs usually start with a face (to me a face always tells the story; a body follows) or a seed of an idea. As I work on the design – always the character or creature first – I get to know it and where it’s going…a bit like dating, but with generally better end results.

What artists and designers inspire you?

Button and magnet sets

Everyone from Walter Crane, Kay Nielson and Beardsley to Keith Haring, but I’m most influenced by my lifetime love of mythology, comic books, tattoos, logo designs, toys, urban art and all things Asian. I love the idea of being able to tell a story with a single image that can be carved into skin, a rubber stamp, or cast in plastic – how gorgeously powerful is that?

Are you selling the works exclusively with Wilbur or can we see your work elsewhere?

Wilbur’s always the home of anything I create and the place where you’ll be able to find it first, but I also have an Etsy site, and will be doing craft shows over the summer, as well – all either accessible or pimped (shameless plug time) through my Facebook fan page Kenbodesigns.

Kenbodesigns, May 20, 5 p.m., Wilbur Vintage, 716 S. Fourth St., 215-413-5809.