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  • Author: Dessane Lopez Cassell
  • Date: WINTER 2023

Studio Visit: Kenny Rivero

Kenny Rivero, photographed by Flordalis Espinal.

Sit with one of Kenny Rivero’s works long enough, and you’re likely to find yourself in another dimension, breezing through a portal to a uniquely Afro-Dominican surreal.

Born and raised in New York’s Washington Heights—a dense, hilly neighborhood often referred to as “little DR”—Rivero is an artist whose work grows quite literally from his community. As a kid, roving the halls and liminal spaces of his apartment building piqued an interest in examining and imagining the hidden histories of his surroundings. Urban architectural elements, particularly those of neglected spaces, became a source of inspiration for the artist, their textures and quirks suggestive of stories ripe for unspooling on a canvas or in a drawing. Stints in behind-the-scenes gigs, including as a doorman, porter, and art handler, further cultivated an eye for subtle tells and details.

Yet while Rivero’s work often draws on his own experiences and environments, it would be a misnomer to refer to them as autobiographical. His hybrid narratives draw just as much on the stories he’s divined and been told as they do on the influences of merengue, hip-hop, and house music. His works teem with moody, ethereal characters that poke fun at machismo and unsettle traditional notions of race, gender, and what he calls the “broken narrative of Dominican American identity.” Fluidity and improvisation are key for Rivero, with each work sliding between the realms and symbols of Christianity, Vodun, Santeria, and myriad other strains of Afro-Caribbean spirituality.

This issue, Rivero invites us into his Bronx studio and walks us through his process.

Rivero in his studio.

Tell us about the first step in your creative process. Where do you begin?

I begin by cleaning my studio. I never clean up after myself after I’m done for the day. Cleaning first thing in the morning helps me meditate and realign on what I did the day before.

What are you working on currently?

I’m working on a painting for Art Basel in Miami. So far it’s a painting of a book—a painting of a mural of a book. A painting of a painting.

Describe your ideal creative space in three words.

Cozy, private, breezy.

Rivero's studio.

Rivero's studio.