Artwear: An Interview With Kendrick Daye

Images: Courtesy of the artist, Demetrius Fordham

Last month, I had to pleasure of talking with the New York-based visual artist, Kendrick Daye. Kendrick is the talented designer of the distinctive Versonce and Javenchy t-shirts that he calls “wearable art.” Interviewing my cool and talented new best friend (in my head) was just like catching up. We chatted about his upcoming projects, his plans to travel, and how music has shaped his life and artwork. I was truly inspired by Kendrick’s vivid spirit and unapologetic attitude. There’s no doubt that his drive and individuality could make him this decade’s pop art icon.

Kendrick answers the phone.

So, I guess we can just jump right in. I told you I wanted to talk to you about the shirts, but since you’re already kind of in work mode, you can just tell me about your work in general. You know, as an artist, as a designer, just what you do in general.

What I do in general, honestly, for me, I’m really just bringing my world to life. A lot of times people just focus on the pop imagery, and that is a big part of my world. And it’s not just pop, it’s just music in general. As a kid growing up, and feeling like no one understands you, or no one is listening to you. I can always pin-point and go to a song and that song can pretty much describe my feelings. So music was always a refuge. So when I started making artwork, a lot of it was geared towards music. Even there’s not a pop figure in there, sometimes I’ll be listening to music and a lyric will trigger a visual. Like, there’s a piece on Rihanna’s… What song was that? ‘Raining Men’ and she has a line in the song where she goes, “it’s always raining men girl, what you worried bout?” And, I identified with that and I created an image based off that. She’s not even in the piece but it was still based off her music. So a lot of my work is based off of music. I just try to bring a very cool, pop aesthetic. I try to keep it bright even in darker moments, and I’m just trying to tell my story through visuals.

That’s dope, and I think it’s pretty cool. You always hear about the arts mixing and merging. So I think it’s cool that that’s what inspires you to make visual art.


Did you want to say something?

Oh no.


Obviously that was the inspiration behind your shirts. Are you big fans of JAY Z and Beyoncé? How did that come about, and you named them after the designers? How did that work?

For me, it’s just another part of my work is the designing. I love having my work in people’s homes. I love doing murals, but for me, the biggest draw is when someone wears my clothes… wears my art as clothes. It’s like, you’re saying that you fuck with this so much that you’ll put this on your back and you’ll go out into the world and let it represent you. Fashion represents like the music you listen to, and the art you like, and the books you read but more so, I think fashion really just represents who you are as a person. So for someone to wear my art as clothes, it’s a big high for me.


So moving forward, I’m going to release a lot of different — not just t-shirts — but a lot of different apparel ideas. I thought leading with the JAY Z and Beyoncé was clever. Just looking at their standing in pop culture right now… They’re just such a big powerhouse, and such a big power couple. So I just felt like starting out with them would just make a really great statement. And yeah, I love everything they do.


I write for a blog, Creative Jenius Report, and I was just running through a bunch of Timbaland and Missy stuff, and that just led me to a bunch of JAY Z songs that I hadn’t heard in years. And I stayed up to like 1AM just reminiscing and remembering where I was when I first heard those songs. It’s just like, they’re such a big part of my art, and it’s just inspiring seeing two black people doing so many amazing things. The fact that they kept topping and persisting. You know, life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You just have to keep going, keep going, and keep doing. And eventually, when people look back, they’re going to actually see. Like ‘Oh my God, you’ve been doing this for years and I’m just getting into it.’ I feel like that’s the point they’re at now. Where, people are just starting to recognize, and it’s more desirable at this point. You know?

Right. OK now, with all of your art and selling it, do you think or have you run into any issues? Or how do you get around, I guess the legal part of it as far as the photography and stuff like that?

You know, it hasn’t been an issue at all. The thing is, people have brought that up to me before but I’m not worried about it. For me, it’s like I’m being creative and I’m creating. I know that it will come a time where that becomes an issue but that’s going to be a part, when that happens, I’m going to be in a position where I’ll have a lawyer and we’ll handle that accordingly. No one is going to take the time and effort and energy and money to sue you when they’re not going to get anything out of it. Right now, I’m just posting work and I’m just doing my thing but I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I am on a national platform where someone can say, ‘Oh my God, I want a piece of what you have,’ because that’s really what it is. And that’s what it boils down to. I’m building myself up that point because I know it’s coming. I know where I see myself as an artist, and I know that eventually it’s going to happen. Like it happened to Damien Hirst, it happened to Jeff Koons, like a lot of these artists that use source material. Even painters, sometimes have to deal with that. I know it’s going to come. I’ve been collaborating with different photographers. I would say 3 or 4, and they’re all giving me different things. That’s source imagery that I have the right to use, because they’ve given me the right to use it. When it comes to selling it, we can go about splitting it.


And eventually, when I actually have a working studio, if I do a portrait of Rihanna, if I do a portrait of Britney Spears, if I do a portrait of Beyoncé or anybody, I will actually shoot them myself. So I own the images, and I have the rights to actually use them in artwork moving forward. That’s a dream down the line.

I think it’s good that you’re at least thinking about it and you have a plan for it because a lot of people are just working. Sometimes that stuff can come as a shock. It can come as a shot and it can hurt. But I think you’ll be fine because you’ve already got a plan. You’re like ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to do. I’m working with photographers. I’m working on my own photography and by this time, I’ll have my lawyers,’ So I think that’s really good. So is that your ultimate goal? What’s your ultimate goal overall?

My ultimate goal is to wake up and only do my artwork. Right now, I do a lot of designs for people on the side. I also work with an agency doing designs for art clients. But really, I like collaborating with people. I like collaborating with other artists but I really, really, really just want to only do my work. Honestly, a lot of it is an excuse to travel.


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I want to be able to just wake up and say ‘OK, I’m moving my studio to Paris for a month, and I’m working there’ or ‘I’m doing a mural in Brazil.’ Like, I’m planning to go do murals in Brazil sometime in November. I live in New York now. I’m planning. I always plan to get away from this place when it’s super cold. So I’m planning to maybe take a couple of weeks and go down to Brazil and do a couple murals there. Brazil is very big on having public art.


People donate their walls in their house. People will donate walls on the side of their businesses because they like the way it attracts people. So, I want to spend some time down there. Really, traveling and I want to stay independent. Money obviously, it’s necessary to keep things moving. I do want to money, and I do want to money but not to have money to just have it and hoard it. I have a lot of other goals, even outside of just my art. Once I figure out how to make it sustain this, I want to be able to teach other artists. I feel like art is just so important. I feel like in our society, we have a very throwaway ideal. We dispose of things very quickly. It’s not just visual art. We do it with music. If you think about it, nobody buys music anymore. You can just go download it or listen to it on Spotify or YouTube. So, I want to be able to try to bring it back to when I grew up. I grew up when, back in the day, like I’m 27. I remember on Tuesday, after school, I would be so hype. And I would run to Best Buy, and some days, I would buy like 4 different CDs in one day.



That’s how I had to get music. You couldn’t just go online and get it instantly, and listen to it on repeat. Even further than that… Before all of that. When I didn’t even have the money, I would have to wait until the song came on…

The radio?


The radio… and record it on tape.



That’s how I would have to… I would have to listen to it like that and fast-forward. I was even thinking: I have my iPhone and if you want to skip or rewind a song, you could just press a button. I remember when you had to actually hold the rewind button and you’d have to find that moment where it starts again on the tape. So I want to be able to, you know, bring us back to that moment where people appreciated and respected artistry more than just the way we dispose of things now. Even the way we dispose of our pop stars. If someone does one thing you don’t like, people just kind of write them off, which is very weird to me.


But ultimately, I just want to be… I want to inspire that type of change. But of course, I do want to be able to thrive and make money to fuel more projects, and the projects and my work will get bigger and bigger. Of course with that help.

Are there any projects are anything different that you’re working on that you want to talk about?

Yeah. Right now, I am working on a children’s book. That should be released sometime in the Summer. My friend Myles, his name is Myles Johnson, he’s a really amazing writer. He wrote a book inspired by this music project I released a couple years ago. We’ve been sitting on the book. It’s a really great children’s book. It’s kind of trippy, and it’s called “Large Fears.” So I’m working on that. I’m going to be doing my second collaboration with Gap. I’m going to be doing an in-store art installation, and also customizing jeans for their customers while they come in to shop. So that should be really cool. That should be this month. I think, March 21st. I’m also working towards my next solo exhibition, and I’m really taking my time with that. All of the stuff I post, I work very quickly because I have a lot of ideas that I’m trying to get out. Those pieces, I look at those as sketches for my next body of work that’s going to be a lot more expansive and a lot bigger and just… The last couple of years have been very interesting for me. A lot of ups and a lot of downs. I have a lot to say and a lot to talk about — even outside of the pop culture stuff — just stuff that I’ve been through that I think people could relate to. That, ultimately, is the next thing. I’m working towards my next show and just collaborating with people as they come. I love working with other artists. Anyone that wants to work on something I’m just like ‘Send me something and just bounce off ideas’, because you never know what will come of it.

Right. How can people get in touch with you? If anyone is checking us out, if they want to work with you and see what you have going on, how can they reach out to you?

Definitely check out my website, I just launched that, so that’s pretty much my portfolio. I’m on socials. I try to do Twitter but it’s a little… I don’t tweet as much as I should. I retweet more than I tweet. But if you really want to contact me, I’m on Instagram like all day long. I love Instagram. My Instagram and my Twitter are both @KendrickDaye.

I really think the children’s book is cool, and I think it stand out to me, because I think it’s something that I want to do with music— like sustain it. It’s a lot like what you want to do, kind of sustain art for future generations, and sustain our culture. I think that will be pivotal— something like that. I love talking to little kids, I love listening to what they’re listening to. I feel like I’m getting old.


I don’t know what they’re talking about.

Wait, how old are you?

I’m 26, I’ll be 27 in May.

But yeah, you’re at that age. You’re at the age where you start to realize. The thing is, it’s funny because people used to always do it to me when I was younger. Older guys, and older people, and older artists would come around like ‘Hey, what are you listening to?’ I thought it was weird, but now I get it. Because young people… There’s an energy, and that fearless kind of energy that’s like ‘I like this shit. I don’t care if you don’t like it. This is what’s hot to me’.


Just doing projects with kids. I feel like that’s what’s going to keep art going. If a young kid can see someone that’s an artist or a music artist and they can identify with them, and they can say ‘I can do it too.’ That’s what keeps it going. You can’t just be hoarding the information. I want to share. Even with the children’s book, we plan to do book readings which would be more like workshops where we invite a group of kids. Read the book to them and have them kind of like… the book is called “Large Fears” so they can explore their large fears and talk about what scares them, talk about what inspires them. And actually, it’s crazy because all kids are artists. All kids are artists. It’s just when you grow up.

You kind of lose it.

And people tell you, you can’t do certain things.


Yeah, you lose it. For me, it’s like catching them when they’re young to kind of give them that little push to keep it going, and keep it going.

That’s really, really cool Kendrick. I like that a lot.

Thank you.

I just think you’re dope in general, but that just stood out to me. What you were saying about keeping things going, reaching out to the younger generations is imperative. You can’t keep anything going without doing that.

Yeah, because it’s not just about you. I’ve realized that. It’s not just about me. What’s coming for me is coming, and it’s already on it’s way, but it’s really about inspiring people. When you asked me ultimately what I want to do: I want to inspire somebody. Even if it’s just one person. Inspiring people: You might not even know you’ve inspired somebody but they’re watching and they’re taking notes. And they’re like, ‘Oh, I can do that too if he can do that.’ And you never know where they’re going. They could be the next, I don’t know.. whoever. You’ve triggered that, because you’ve shown them a different way other than what they thought was possible. For me, that’s what it’s about. That’s my mission at this moment. Keeping my head up, working, and hoping that someone is watching and they’re going to want to keep it going. Keep the artwork moving.

Yeah, I like that. Well, I’m not going to take too much of your time but is there anything else you want to say? What you said was just… I guess great. You do well putting words together.

Thank you.


It’s almost like you’re reading. I don’t know a way to put it.

For me, it used to be hard to do interviews because I always wanted to make sure I sounded smart and sounded articulate. Now honestly, that’s why I was very excited about this. Now, the space I’m in, I’m just talking from my heart. This is what I feel. I can’t be anything other than myself. That’s just the space I’m in. So, it’s like I’m just talking from my heart right now.

That’s awesome. Was there anything else you wanted to say?

No, you covered everything. I think we’ve got everything.

Well Kendrick, I’ll let you get back to work. I’ll definitely reach out to you once we get everything up. I thank you for talking to me today.

No, thank you.

No problem. I work at night, and you’re the first person I’ve talked to today and you kind of got me inspired a little bit. So I guess I’ll do something with my day.

For more about Kendrick Daye, visit his website.