Artist of the Week

Kai Jenrette

May 23, 2023

Kai Jenrette (B. Atlanta) is an artist and designer raised in Baltimore studying at The Cooper Union and currently working at Saint Heron. Taking shape across different mediums, his work looks to investigate objecthood, the complexities of being, and making the self. Inspired by tools, making practices, and the many ways we choose to fashion identity, he uses systems and iteration as ways of working and creating the self. His drawings, writings, and objects look to explore and negotiate his sensibilities as a case study in personal style and the processes of making.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m an artist and designer from Baltimore living in New York. I care a lot about what it means to be yourself and I think about how complicated and perfect that task is every day. When I’m not making things, I’m usually thinking about making things or watching music videos.

From ‘exy ilence’, with Nicole Lowe and Paloma Soto

How would you describe your approach to type and the use of text in your work?

The ability for humans to sense patterns in shapes, languages, and systems is really interesting to me. I often think about those instincts when creating type systems and forms in my work. I also really love the history of Black people flexing, specifically in music. The affirmative language of being bad bitches is really intriguing to me and feels like a generative space for talking about how we make identity. I use these sensibilities in type and writing to negotiate between creating language and creating the self.

Can you talk about your approach and connections to the objects that you select to use in your work?

I like creating work that has to do with the extremely ordinary. The work oftentimes looks to point out the romantic and the uncanny in being yourself and being an object. By conflating myself and my work with the same tribulations of objecthood, the objects I make can hold space for very human emotions and experiences. The objects can be perfect and confused amalgamations of life and use.

Obsession Volume 2

What is your current favorite restaurant?

One Sunday out of every month, my friend Nicole and I go to Natural Blend and get a bunch of patties. The jerk plantain patty is literally so good.

Can you talk about the neutral color palette that is consistent throughout your work?

I’m only really interested in found color and find often imposing colors onto objects makes things more complicated than necessary. l think most things in life are much better left untouched and admired as they are and I stick to that principle in my work. Color in the work is mainly guided by the materiality of the objects around us and is simply mediated by my tastes and sensibilities. A roll of packing tape, newsprint, graphite, these materials are perfect as they are and do not call for intervention.

From ‘Spacious 1 BR Off Bliss’ with Lola Dement Myers

When you were growing up, what did you want to be when you were older?

I wanted to be cool and funny and well-dressed. There was one year when I wanted to be an architect and another year when I wanted to move to Canada and make comics. None of these things have happened yet but they’re coming.

Can you talk about your recent exhibition “Spacious 1 BR Off Bliss” with Lola Dement Myers?

My friend Talya put together the show in an empty apartment she had access to in Queens. Lola and I had just worked on designing a bed for Lucky Jewel and I thought it would be great to continue to collaborate for a work in the Queens apartment. Lola and I have very similar brains and working with her sometimes feels like we’re becoming one person/entity. The piece itself reflected that relationship. Our bed sat in the center of the room and a long continuous, ankle-height table wrapped around the perimeter. On the table were some of Lola and I’s daily objects. Each group of objects on the table represented a time in the day; a meditation on what it would be like to live in a completely closed system. One thing that’s great about working with Lola is how our intuition lines up and manifests. Around the time we were working on the room, we were both really into rain. We decided a few of our daily objects on the table would be decorated with compositions of raindrops, making a weird bedroom even weirder. It was perfect. A bedroom where two people lived as one and occasionally it rained inside.

From ‘Spacious 1 BR Off Bliss’ with Lola Dement Myers

What are you currently listening to and/or reading?

I listen to So Sick by Ne-Yo like every day. I’ve also been revisiting Octavia Butler’s essay on Positive Obsession almost religiously in the past few months. It’s been an anchor as I’ve worked through my latest book project, a 3 volume index of obsessions in my camera roll. The way Butler talks about positive obsession helping get things done has been really helpful as that project comes to fruition.

Can you talk about your group presentation “exy ilence” at Cooper Union?

exy ilence” was a recent group show with some of my best friends Nicole Lowe and Paloma Soto. It was a truly special process making together and I found myself really emphasizing friendship and subculture in my work. The drawings and sculptures I showed were spaces for me to think about all the romantic facets of friendship that contribute to how we create identities. Dressing in the same outfit as your best friend, sharing secrets, and hanging out, those things are really important to me and super prominent in that work. Nicole and Paloma are also just super smart and inspire me to make fun things. Because of our relationship, there was a real unspoken trust in collaborating that was pretty magical.

From ‘exy ilence’, with Nicole Lowe and Paloma Soto

The way that your work is presented appears to have a very intentional and delicate organizational sensibility. Is this something that is constant in other areas of your life like your living space/work space?

I’m like this everywhere all the time. That is to say, there is a very thin line between myself and what I make. Most of the time in the work, I’ll use myself as a case study in taste and personhood. So I would say more often than not, I welcome sensibilities from other areas of my life to leak into the work.

What are your plans for the summer?

I’ve had the urge to design a classroom, so I’m going to start making that happen. My grandmother was a teacher and I used to work at a daycare so the aesthetics and ideologies of learning spaces have definitely infiltrated my brain. The spaces and tools we use to become functioning members of society are super important. Like flashcards and homemade paper-bag book covers are super interesting to me right now.

From ‘exy ilence’, with Nicole Lowe and Paloma Soto

Do you have any daily rituals?

Every night before I go to bed I think about what I will wear the next day. This has been a ritual since I was sentient. My mom and I would lay outfits out on my bed in the evenings and decide which one would be perfect for tomorrow. I’m quite particular about how I dress and this can often be the most challenging decision of my day. I’ve maintained this ritual in my daily practice and have yet to create the perfect outfit.


Interview conducted by Sam Dybeck and drafted by Milo Christie