Chalk and Charcoal: The Artist

By Jody Taylor

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“There will be clouds of chalk, blood and sweat, words to spark the beats of hearts. There will be a story unfolding. Let’s do this.” The Artist

Ray-bans and Passion
Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Ricki Kennedy is The Artist, a live performance painter who’s been increasingly appearing at music events around the area recently. The image reflects an enigmatic figure of rock star status, dressed all in black and sporting Ray-Bans, jamming with the musicians she draws beside like another member of the band. I broke through this disguise in a recent telephone conversation, getting to the heart of a sensitive and intelligent artist who truly loves the music, the creative process, the passion of expression and human connection. 

Chalk and Charcoal
Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Chalk and charcoal is The Artist’s instrument, a dry medium perfect for live performance drawing, allowing for quick erasures in following the flow. Very little preparation goes into a show. Instead, she prefers stepping up to a blank sheet of paper with no preconceived notions to translate sound into art. Kennedy sees music visually. “I coordinate colors and their brightness to rhythms or notes. I see and hear and feel in sounds, colors and emotions,” she said. These concepts are very close to a rare but well-documented neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia, typically found in creative minds. There are several different forms, but a link in the brain between sound and color, like Kennedy’s, seems to fall in line with chromesthesia, or sound-to-color synesthesia. Pharrell Williams, a reported synesthete, talked about his own unique perceptions in a 2013 interview with NPR: “…the visual nerve ending and the auditorial nerve ending are connected. So they send ghost images to each other. I know when something is in key because it either matches the same color or it doesn’t.” Ricki Kennedy most recently performed with diverse musicians like the improvisational post-rock duo When the Word Was Sound, Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist Mickey Smith, Jr., and Texas soul singer Luke Wade, who placed within the Top 10 on NBC’s The Voice last season. This blending of art and music is an exciting thing to experience, and the vibe of Kennedy’s work varies depending on the style of music. The Artist draws no distinction between genres, instead allowing each style’s ambience to guide her hand. To illustrate the point, Kennedy said her dream performances would be at the symphony, which is easy to understand because the music is open to individual interpretation, or alongside controversial rapper Eminem. “I may not agree with everything he says”, Kennedy stated, but she admires his passion, honesty and will to overcome. While she may follow recent musical trends, Kennedy is a classicist visually, finding inspiration in mythology, in anatomical studies, in the works of Renaissance artists like Michelangelo. Not one to follow contemporary art, this former Air Force intelligence analyst is also self-studied with little formal art training. The persona of The Artist first emerged as a happy accident, after Kennedy signed up to draw at a local Volunteers of America event. By fate’s hand the organizers scheduled her alongside a band, and Kennedy found her art compelled to sync with the melodies. 

The Living Book
Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Photo by Jamie Hartnett

Besides live performances, her other main project is called “The Living Book,” for now published periodically on her website. These blog-style posts are Kennedy’s chronicling of emotions derived from performances and life experiences - a poetic journal that peeks into the soul of The Artist: “…what if these paintings to melody and song / Could form a connection from the creative spark / To the fire that creates the beat of your heart” (excerpt from Part 3 / Epic: Frequencies of the Surreal”). Intimate baring of the soul like this is easy to dismiss by the cynical, but this Artist believes “the power of words mirrors the power of art” in bridging the ever-widening gaps between souls. And this Writer agrees. Follow The Artist for information on performances, and experience “The Living Book” as it unfolds, at


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