Copper in the Arts

October 2020

Kenoka Wagner: Creativity Knows No Boundaries

By Lisa Scheid

Moon-garden-stake.jpgMoon Garden stake by Kenoka Wagner.
Photograph courtesy of Kenoka Wagner.

“As an experimental artist, I try everything out,” says Pennsylvania artist Kenoka Wagner.

That may explain how a squiggle he made to decorate a shopping bag in his gallery is now a polystyrene sculpture destined to be cast in bronze. 

Or, it may not. For Wagner, much depends on his process. He first explores how the polystyrene could become a 4-foot bronze. What would it cost? What would it weigh? How would it be transported. 

The process, the experiment, the solving of a problem is where he has found fulfillment even during the pandemic when his gallery,The 2nd Floor Art Gallery, in Revere, Bucks County had to close and he created a website to sell his work.

A website not the same as a gallery. The connection to buyers and gallery visitors is not immediate or as energizing online.

The gallery re-opened as pandemic restrictions have eased. 

“I had to bite the bullet and make a website,” he said. “Customers can still safely visit the gallery with masks.”

The not-for-profit gallery features works of local artists, in addition to his work. More than 100 artists have been helped in the past three years, he said. 

He’s back to making art on shopping bags for customers who buy the art in the gallery. The sculpture he calls a squiggle head began as a drawing on a shopping bag. It evoked this crazy confusing year. He projected it onto polystyrene and sculpture. 

unnamed.jpgSculpture relief of a future bronze casting.
Photograph courtesy of Kenoka Wagner.

Wagner works in multi mediums. Copper is his favorite metal. In addition to sculptures, he has used copper to create ornaments, pins and garden stakes.

“I was drawn to copper for it's warmth and pliability,” he said. “The unpredictability of the patinas are also exciting.”

He said ideas come from literally everywhere. He cuts his pieces from copper sheets.  He will sketch directly onto the copper, then hammer, solder and patina. He uses a variety of found and homemade objects to create textures on the copper. 

He demonstrates his copper process in a recent YouTube video he launched on the web. 

Wagner said he was bullied as a child. That experience led to his series of monster pieces, which are more whimsical than horrifying.

“An outcast or ‘monster’ if you will,” he explains. “I believe everyone can relate to this feeling. I make them lovable because that is also what we all need. They are always evolving, new mediums, sizes and styles. I will continue to make them as long as they continue to make me happy.”

This work of experimentation and art seems almost inevitable for Wagner. His earliest memories are of painting alongside his father.

Wagner says he was born an artist from artist parents. “there was no chance I was going to be a football player,” he reveals.

He’s had many jobs along the way: Bartender, store manager, house cleaner, sales and restaurant work. 

“Yet art was always there in some form---drag costumes, faux finishing and a 30-year long stint with making music,” Wagner explains.  “The approach to my work is exploratory and full of joy. It is most rewarding when I’m trying something new and challenging myself. Discovery is always part of the process and accidents are welcome.”


Kenoka Wagner, The 2nd Floor Art Gallery, 8826 Easton Rd., Revere, PA

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