Seeing and knowing “before words”



exhibition catalogue

Before Words  is a body of metal and paint skin works by Kennedy Yanko, exhibited at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), Grand Rapids, Mi., in 2019–20.

Yanko is a painter-sculptor who combines salvaged metal and supple paint skins in unexpected, lyrical compositions. She simultaneously explores sensory responses to the physicality of her materials, and the innate connections between them despite their seeming dissimilarity.

With Before Words, Yanko induces new ways of seeing—of looking beyond our comfortable echo chambers to develop our own viewpoints. Abstraction is intuitive and revelatory in Before Words. The works posit that firsthand sensory experience is a means to critical thought, and ambiguity can elicit a response full of clarity.

The publication collects artworks in the exhibition; essays; and photos of HANNAH, Yanko’s contemporaneous exhibition at Kavi Gupta in Chicago, that further contextualize her practice. Its design subtly embraces the tactile and experiential, inviting the senses to participate in reading the artist’s work.



Kennedy Yanko: Before Words. Contributions by Lucy Mensah, Juana Williams, and Kennedy Yanko. Published by UICA and Kavi Gupta, 2019. Perfect bound softcover with velvet finish, 44 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches. Background image courtesy of UICA and the artist.





touches of experience

Yanko’s works speak to the reader and echo through the publication design. The cover has a velvet finish, akin to texture of the paint skins in the work. The inside cover and one spread—a visual divide between sections of content—are filled with a warm clay color, similar to many of the colors in Before Words. These fields of color are a gesture toward abstraction and the possibilities of material.


The look of words, the feel of work

Yanko’s material juxtapositions are full of contradiction—delicate wrinkles and lines, in hard metal; abstraction made from figurative skin; scrap as fine art; paint as sculpture.

To match the lyricism and (in)congruities of her work, the typography features Orpheus Pro, a precise yet flowing typeface; Cardo, a classical serif; and Grotesque MT, an industrial sans serif.

The layouts are varied and clean, for a modern look. Some images fill pages to the edges, and others are off-center counterbalances, or centered and direct. Rhythmic but uncomplicated, the design amplifies the feel of the work.