Spencer Keeton Cunningham – ACCESSION – Interview

Spencer Keeton Cunningham has finally launched a new solo exhibition after 2 years on the road. An artist who set forth over 2 years ago on a self proclaimed painting journey, Cunningham has most recently been painting large walls throughout the United States, Australia and New Zealand. He has continued to remain on the road with no home base, venturing solo from one location to the next, from the border of Southern Mexico to the iced over roads of Alaska over the past 800 days. He has just recently launched his most recent solo exhibit from the road, titled “Accession” at One Grand Gallery in Portland, Oregon. 


The exhibit features colourfully painted walls bearing a skeleton of an American Indian figure dropping a firearm, a distressed Native American pattern, and a 4-eyed wolf apparently sliced into various pieces showing elements of its skeletal structure.  In Cunningham’s words, this show marks the first instalment of this “style” of show he has ever done in the United States.


“I did one of these in Canada last winter but this is the first time I’ve brought it home.  What the ‘show’ is to me is really more of an activation of the space from my initial arrival to when I finish.  Its just one push really.  I arrive in the gallery with all blank canvases and blank white walls before I start cutting into the space and establishing the dialogue. With a show like this, I create one large story and one continual painting overlapping onto the walls and back onto the canvas and vice versa.  It’s about taking the idea of making an art exhibit and playing around with it and really just experimenting.  This ‘style’ of show is made in the moment, without any initial sketches or anything.”

This exhibit showcases 26 new works from the artist. This solo exhibit marks Cunningham’s first solo exhibition in Oregon. During the opening reception, Cunningham wore a space helmet (marked with an American flag) the entire time, while continuing to slash through the unsuspecting and confused crowd on his skateboard. The crowd that had gathered to see the show was unaware they were a part of what Cunningham was calling his ‘Spaceman Landing’ performance. The performance ensued and eventually came to a close.  Cunningham later was quoted saying it was “A Euphoric Fine Art Experience.” 


One attendee said it was “more then spiritual.” During the climax of the performance, Cunningham was involved in various acrobatic manoeuvres and skateboarding tricks on a quarter pipe which had been designed and created solely for the purpose of the opening reception performance as a “fine art sculpture”. The performance ended as soon as it began, yet the artist never removed the space helmet, leaving the audience confused as to who he was or if he was even the artist responsible for the show in the first place.

“I’ve seen a lot of exhibitions, and this was definitely one of them. This one gets the Frost rubber stamp of approval.”
-Ben Frost


VNA: Spencer, tell us about your recent show.

SKC: Well its titled “ACCESSION” phonetically spelled “akˈseSHən”/ the word is a
noun/verb and means: 1. The attainment or acquisition of a position of rank or power, and 2. a new item added to an existing collection of books, paintings, or artefacts. an addition of a new item to a museum or other collection.

I wanted to comment on the power idea in various ways in our society and as an artist. The solo show itself for an artist is sort of an ego stroking mechanism that I wanted to analyse. It’s been awhile since I exhibited in the states. Also with Trump running for president (even if he may be intentionally sabotaging his own campaign now) I thought the acquisition of power was a theme I wanted to address especially when it comes to Native land and the American Indian historically and currently in the United States.


VNA: Can you tell us about your recent painting you were doing in Tasmania?

SKC: Tasmania was a strange place to say the least. Beautiful as far as the landscape goes. Some of the people there won’t look you in the eye or even wave as you greet them. I definitely felt like an outsider. I traveled around in a car solo (as I normally do) and I painted 6 paintings there, 5 of which were not commissioned.

The works I left there are scattered about in the wild. I documented them in a film I titled ‘SAVE THE DEVIL’ about the current endangered state of the Tasmanian devil there. I was lucky enough to actually see a Tasmanian devil there, which was one of the highlights of my trip.


VNA: Where else did you paint in that region of the World?

SKC: I painted in mainland Australia, in Melbourne and a few other places. It was great seeing some of my friends over there for the first time in their natural habitat; most notably my Everfresh brothers; Meggs, Mike Maka, and TyRONE.

I also did some painting in New Zealand, in the North Island about shark finning for SeaWalls; Murals for Oceans. I have to say thank you to Tre and Aaron at Pangeaseed for putting me on for that. It was a great time. Exploring the South Island of New Zealand turned out to be quite the adventure as well.

Lastly on that leg of this journey I went up to Sydney. Was great exploring the city, painting in the Australian outback with Phibs and spending time with my wild and good friend Anthony Lister. I got a real good perspective of the real Sydney as I would refer to it around Lister’s studio at the time. The urban aboriginal areas in Sydney are what stuck the most for me during my stay there. Definitely left a strong imprint.


VNA: How does it feel to be back in the States?

SKC: Different. Definitely different every time. When I came back I was feeling a bit out of place, so I took a trip up to Canada. I painted a wolf character there that was in pieces, sort of dismembered I guess. In the hand of the wolf there was a knife. I like to believe my work is somewhat autobiographical. This piece really embodied how I felt at that time. Soon after completing that wall I came back to the States. Since then I’ve been back and forth across the country I think 6 times in the past 2 months. A word to the wise, avoid Omaha, Nebraska. It’s the apocalypse there.

Other then the traveling from here to there, my art exhibit is still up in Portland, Oregon for the remainder of the month of August. That makes me happy. Ben Frost likes the exhibit. I guess that’s all that really matters.


VNA: Whats next?

SKC: I have a lot of archiving to do and a few films to finish once I take the time to use a computer somewhere. I’m really not in tune with the constant uploading generation. I try to do my best but I fall short often. Also I feel that it kind of ruins the mystery in the art and the notion of an artist. When one becomes a slave to their uploading habits and it actually starts influencing their art and how they make it or when they make it, that’s where I see a conflict. To me art is much more then a popularity contest. Or a bunch of small easily digestible digital images floating side by side in a sea of shit and advertising.

I kinda upload in surges once every 6 months or so. I just broke my computer and dropped my iPhone into bubbling hot water so I’m out of the uploading game for quite some time. For the time being I’ll just keep making films and try to keep a good old fashioned 35mm camera by my side.


VNA: How has the road been treating you?

SKC: As Woody Guthrie once put it “I’ve been hitting some hard travelin’”. But only from time to time. Being on the road 200 days shy of 1000 days straight can take its toll on your health. But I’m still kicking for the time being.

At times the whole trip all becomes a blur really. I have been continuing to write. Planning on releasing some of my writings soon. I’ve been loving it though. I wouldn’t want to live any other way. Traveling, painting and having fun all at the same time. Only time will tell where I end up next.

An art historian named named Elaine O’Brian has been making an online interactive map of every wall I have painted and place I have exhibited over the past 14 years. So that will be interesting to see when its done.

I am also planning on painting a wall in Massachusetts soon as well as show a film at the Portland Art Museum this month. [A preview of the movie can be seen below].


VNA: Anything else you would like to add?

SKC: Check out my current show if you’re in Portland at One Grand Gallery. It’s up until August 27th. Don’t support police officers who kill innocent people. Make art. Don’t pollute the ocean and Ben Frost for president


One Grand Gallery
Portland, Oregon
July 29-August 27