Kenn Kotara to feature “Asleep in the Valley” at Art Affair 2017
By Lauren Stepp
When Kenn Kotara says he finds couplets and tetrameter in his art, he’s not just waxing poetic. His “Asleep in the Valley,” a copper installation of hand-hammered braille, features modernist Arthur Rimbaud’s classic war poem, “Le Dormeur du Val,” in French, English and Spanish.
Rimbaud wrote the Italian Petrarchan sonnet in 1878, a year after serving in the Dutch Colonial Army. In the manifest, a soldier smiles like an infant in his sleep. He is depicted as gentle and unarmed; “Nature” even warms his bones. The latent explores less innocuous themes, chiefly lost innocence.
Raised by a French-Creole mother, Kotara translated the poem to nod to his Louisiana roots. He said the “lush, bucolic” valley Rimbaud describes parallels the bayou, where brackish water stagnates and grows green. A verdigris patina on the copper panels reinforces that imagery, mimicking Spanish moss.
You can never rid yourself of your childhood, Kotara said. “I’m always called back to notions of memory.”
Yet the unsystematic color splashes deviate from his left-brained background. Having studied architecture, Kotara starts all artwork with a grid: a series of verticals and horizontals intersecting to make neat perpendiculars. The foundation is always sensible in that way, but then he tacks on the sensibility.
Take “Asleep in the Valley” for instance. Initially, Kotara was attracted to braille because of a circle’s geometry, but then he considered its symbolism. In art, where the emphasis is on sight, braille creates inclusivity. It allows anyone, no matter their abilities, to envision Rimbaud’s late 19th-century France. It transforms poetry from reading to feeling.
“Asleep in the Valley” will be up for auction at Art Affair 2017: Urban Canvas on March 11, 6:30 p.m. in Wedge Brewery at Foundation in the River Arts District. Hosted by OpenDoors of Asheville, the art gala directly supports initiatives meant to pull western North Carolina youth from multigenerational poverty and into more sustainable lives. This will be Kotara’s eighth year donating artwork.
“OpenDoors works between the seams,” Kotara said. “They make sure the needs that aren’t being met by our current social structure don’t fall through the cracks.”
General admission to “Art Affair 2017: Urban Canvas” are $100 each, with VIP tickets available for $150. For more information about OpenDoors and to reserve tickets, go to opendoorsasheville.org.