Kenneth Laird’s art shows ‘what freedom means today’
Kenneth Laird of High Point is one of 36 contemporary artists featured in the international traveling exhibit, “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms – Reimagining the Four Freedoms” organized by the Rockwell Museum, for his digital print on paper, “Freedom of Speech – Fake News.”
Their initial call for artists in 2017 yielded over 1,000 works in a juried competition supported by the Ford Foundation. The show opened at the New York Historical Society in New York City on May 25, 2018, while the art exhibit ran concurrently at Central Park at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.
For the “Reimagining the Four Freedoms” section of the exhibition, artists were asked to consider what freedom means today and to provide a contemporary interpretation of Roosevelt’s speech to Congress in 1941 and painted by Rockwell in 1943. The Four Freedoms speech included freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Chosen works included painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video and mixed media.
Laird was working full-time as a creative director of Liberty Garden Products in Kernersville when he entered four different drawing concepts that all involved present-day technology. When he read his first, second and third “reject” emails, he said he didn’t even bother opening the fourth one. Thankfully, he accepted a call at work from the Norman Rockwell Museum asking if he was still interested in entering his drawing, as they had not received his response to his fourth concept being accepted.
Laird presented the winning concept for his drawing, “Freedom of Speech – Smart TV Illustration” along with this written description,
“Can we believe anything in the media anymore? Two words dominate the media lexicon Fake News. Newspapers for so many years were the gold standard of journalism. Now, look at what it has come to in America. The idea of electronic news through social media scares me. Ignorance abounds, and this freedom is at a risky crossroads. Encouraged by the freedom to protest and create imagery about the topic, I felt compelled to make this image of a young man watching cable news with a story about Fake News on the TV. Decide for yourself as the color image is slightly blurred.”
“Growing up as an illustrator, every artist aspired to be as good as Norman Rockwell,” he said. “For me to have my art hanging next to his is a dream come true.”
Another painting that celebrates the right of freedom in America is “Jack of Hearts,” which features an illustration of a man holding an actual embedded photo of a soldier based on the story that inspired a web site called “52 reasons to love a veteran” created by Ella Rue after her son came back from Afghanistan with PTSD.
Laird has received a lot of second chances throughout his art career. He said art was all he had ever wanted to do and his passion and true love (aside from his wife, Pam and son, Eric) is with his easel and drafting table. He said his parents had always encouraged him to do art.
“I was one of the very, very lucky ones after going through a difficult journey,” he said, and when he was in the worst of it, he called his dad who told him, “Don’t drive tonight while you’re upset, son, get some sleep and in the morning, load up everything you can into your car and come back home and we’ll figure it out.”
Laird said that all it takes is one person to believe in you when you’re downing out to help you get back up again and his parents were his.
Laird graduated from the Memphis College of Art in 1992 where he received three scholarships and was named Illustrator of the Year by the faculty. He received his Master of Arts degree from Syracuse University in Illustration and graduated top of his class in 2002. Laird studied under many great illustrators such as C.F. Payne, Gary Kelly, Anita Kunz, Tim O’Brien, Bart Forbes, John Thompson and Murray Tinkelman while at Syracuse. Laird has worked with over a hundred advertising agencies with clients that include Walt Disney, NASCAR, Keebler, Topps, Upper Deck, Lance, Bic, Knorr Best Foods and more.
Laird has done paintings to raise awareness for breast cancer, The Art with Heart charity auction for abused women and other good causes.
“It feels so good when people have an emotional conversation about my art,” he said. “Moving forward, I continue to ask what I can do socially to change people’s opinions of things for the better good.”
Laird continues to accept commissions. He said he “paints with graphite” by applying several layers of graphite with leads ranging from 9H to 6B and works from light to dark to slowly complete a piece of work minus fixatives or smearing and rubbing techniques.
Laird also wanted to give a shout out for Zack Capes for his “Triad Visual Artists” Facebook platform.
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer, poet, singer/songwriter, wellness herbalist, flower essences practitioner and owner of Paws n’ Peace o’ Mind cat/dog/house sitting.
Wanna go? “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms (without art portion) through 10/27/2019 at Mémorial de Caen in Normandy, France, WITH the “Reimagining the Four Freedoms” 12/15/2019-3/22/2020 at Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX, 7/4/2020-9/20/2020 at Denver Colorado, 9/12/2020-1/18/2021 at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. Kenneth Laird Studios, High Point, 336.883.5031, https://kenlairdstudios.com, https://www.facebook.com/kennethlairdstudios/ , https://www.instagram.com/kennethlairdstudios/