It was circa 2000 the last time we really hung out together. I was the editor of the school newspaper; he was illustrating our senior yearbook. I was voted ‘best hair’; he won ‘worst driver’. Diplomas were received and off we went in our own directions, out with the teens and into the turbulent twenties.
About five years ago, we briefly bumped into each other by happenstance. He was working another day job to help support his art. I found inspiration talking with an old friend who was hustling with heart to create a life he loved.
Today we are at Hoots sitting outside on one of those perfect late summer “but it feels like fall” kind of days. When I arrived he was already at the table with a mixed group of friends.
“Sorry I’m late,” I apologize. “Oh I didn’t even notice. I don’t wear a watch,” he says with ease.
I squeeze into the conversation of strangers, extra bitter beer in hand, and listen along. I almost forgot what we were there to do as I enjoyed the playful banter around new creative projects. It was easy, energizing and inspiring just like my buddy, artist Kendall Doub.
“So what do you want to know?” he laughs as we break away from the group. I take us back. “Remember that time you told me that ‘you don’t do those silly cartoons anymore’?” I ask.
“I know. I got burnt out and got really into abstract work,” he says.
“Those illustrations were awesome, though. I’m glad to see those types of drawings reemerge in your work.” I say. And I’m serious. I am. He credits the love of his life Nikki for encouraging him to return to illustrating. “She’s my biggest fan.”
One of his current projects is a series of illustrated sandwiches that he has turned into stickers. He loves giving inanimate objects life. “It’s all in the eyes,” he says. His sandwich stickers including ‘Cheezer’ and ‘PB Jay’ have traveled with friends globally landing on poles from Brooklyn to Rome. “It’s a way for my art to reach other areas without me.”
Kendall has always known that he wanted to be an artist. “Since I was two,” he says. Back then he would dictate the images he had in his mind to his grandfather, “and I’d tell him if he was doing it wrong,” he laughs. His grandfather is a craftsman – “built his log cabin by hand when he was 60,” he proudly shares. He recognized Kendall’s potential early on and encouraged his parents to take note and nurture his creative mind.
Within a few short minutes of talking with him I am quick to pick up on how this early support has encouraged him to do the same with kids today. “Art and creativity are the antithesis of complacency,” he repeatedly says.
In 2003 he had his first public show downtown. I asked him what it felt like to sell his first piece. “I was like, what, really, you want to pay me for this?!” We talked about the difficulty in placing value on your art.
Since then his art has continued to evolve. Originally focused on studio art, he continued to exhibit and explore abstract design. But then he hit a point where he realized he wanted to go bigger, make a bigger impact.
“I was limited by my doorway. I could only go as big as the canvases I could fit through my door.” He believes that street art is the most significant contemporary art movement of our time. “It’s happening across the globe simultaneously, not just in one region.”
He had an opportunity to do his first large mural on the side of a building on Trade Street next to Silver Moon Saloon. I’m certain if you spend anytime downtown you have seen it. “It was during my abstract phase,” he comments.
More than just an opportunity to paint, it was during the creation of this first mural that he had an awakening to the power of public art. “I realized then that people who might not ever step foot in an art gallery were being exposed to art in their own way.” During the painting process guys on the street would ask for change offering to help paint. He was humbled by the fact that they thanked him for making the street more beautiful. They lived there and appreciated having something bright to look at each day.
I ask him if it was intimidating doing his first large scale piece. “Of course it was intimidating but that is what made it such an awesome challenge.” He says the key to going that big is to keep perspective. “You constantly have to step away from the detail to examine the overall design.” I believe that advice can apply to almost anything in life.
A few days later we are at Atelier on Trade talking art, life and Winston-Salem sitting outside again. Twice he offered up spare change when asked as we sat on the street and was also quick to offer nice words about acquaintances he knew as they passed by. “He’s a really great guy,” he says. “So are you.” I thought.
Much like my friend Nick Bragg, Kendall is a generous creative in his own way. He sits on the board of Art for Art’s Sake (AFAS) and regularly volunteers his time. The mission of AFAS is to build, educate and celebrate community through ART.
Every Saturday AFAS hosts a Saturday art jam open to all ages where a contributing artist guides folks in a creative project at no charge. He says it always amazes him how often people are intimidated to create; he is surprised how often they stand paralyzed with concern of “doing it wrong”. “What is wrong anyway?” he asks. “Some of the best art comes out of not caring. I tell people to just create what they feel. Oftentimes you will be surprised by what you come up with.”
He tells me of a time he was showing one of his more recent pieces to a group of young kids.
At first glance, it looks like a lighthearted piece but “it really has a dark depressing side” he says. The gumballs represent innocence, youth, a belief that anything is possible, the American Dream. But as you get older, life gets more complicated, you have to make choices, and you might settle and become jaded. The business suit is a juxtaposition. “I like to include an open-ended question with each of my pieces,” he explains. For this one, it is ‘what ultimately broke his jar and made him go mad?’. “It was crazy to hear the kids’ responses.” Young children said things like “he got laid off, he lost his pension.” No better proof that children really are sponges in their environments.
As an AFAS board member he was on the committee that had the good fortune to determine what the organization would do with a two million dollar grant they had been awarded. Loads of ideas were exchanged but they ultimately decided on creating a public art park as a contribution to the future of the city. And during the process, they stayed true to the project’s mission of keeping the entire lump sum of privately donated dollars here in Winston-Salem, sourcing local from design to raw materials to artist work. After purchasing land, the group worked with Stitch Design Shop to turn around the entire park in six quick months. The power of creatives on a mission.
“This city is like a pile of wet clay ready to be molded, and we are lucky to have a local government here that is open to allowing us to mold it ourselves.” His hope is that as the word about Winston-Salem continues to get out that local building owners continue to keep housing and studio space affordable for artists and startups. We both agree that it would be disappointing to build momentum only to then have the local creative talent get priced out.
“Because that’s what makes this city so special.” And just like Winston-Salem, Kendall isn’t trying to be anyone but himself.