Dive into the Bold Art of Kendra Minadeo and Amy Smith
They’re creating through the chaos.
Written byDakota Kim
Photographed byMonica Orozco
For Valley artists Kendra Minadeo and Amy Smith, making political art isn’t limited to election years. The turbulence of the past few years has flooded their work with even more vibrant political images.
Studio City artist Amy Smith’s work revels in color and sensuality, putting the spotlight on women who laugh while raising fists and declaring “fight the power.” From modern icons like Kamala Harris to trailblazers like Maya Angelou, Amy applies her camera, stencils and paintbrush to the emblems of feminist zeitgeist.“I want to celebrate women who are making a difference, not just Marilyn Monroe done 18 different ways,” the artist says.
Amy often takes photographs of her subjects, using them to create stencils and then mixed-media collages. She also does digital graphic design and paints and spray paints on both canvas and wood. Her work has been featured at the LA Art Show and Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair, as well as on TV shows including Dear White People, Grownish and Insecure. In a contemporary art milieu that favors listless “cool girls” or even violent depictions of women, Amy’s subjects are alive with speech and symbolic declaration. Her temporary portrait of Maya Angelou at Wood & Vine restaurant in Hollywood—a collaboration with Arts Bridging the Gap—was emblazoned with a quote from the writer: “We may encounter defeats but we must not be defeated.” From afar, viewers see Angelou’s face framed by doves, but a closer look reveals an entire story within a collage of Angelou’s head and shoulders. Amy used the popular street art “wheatpasting” method (with hanging posters and stencils) to adorn the wall with miniature reproductions of Angelou’s book covers, words, and the title of her poem “Phenomenal Woman.” Amy finds daily inspiration in the Valley, especially working from her Studio City home, where she lives with her 3½-year-old. In fact, her son recently helped break apart vinyl records (“with a real hammer!”) for a commissioned piece.
The artist was selected by the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce to participate in the project #LetsPaintShermanOaks, painting two electrical boxes with vibrant colors. She also collaborates with nonprofit Off the Wall Graffiti in Van Nuys, where she paints at various events. In 2020, Amy produced a total of 11 installations—all with a COVID theme.
A recent virtual show at Gabba Gallery featured Amy’s depiction of her astrological sign, the Sagittarian archer, in a female form. Using a background of recycled magazines, she cut out stencils of the archer illustration and spray-painted the image. The result is a valiant everywoman holding a bow and aiming for an unseen target.
Echoes of Barbara Kruger live on in her silkscreened Equal Means Equal T-shirts, which exhort us to “Elect More Women.”
The artistic endeavors of Kendra Minadeo are far-reaching. The illustrator and designer creates 2-D illustrations, hand-lettering for political works, children’s books, graphic novels and greeting cards. Kendra’s work casts a keen eye on current events such as social distancing and face coverings, but with a lighthearted touch that conceals surprising depth.
Kendra’s work allows the surface viewer to enjoy its colorful and whimsical shapes, while another kind of viewer may discover its subtle clues. A Mother’s Day card is humorous yet thought-provoking, depicting a mom in an office who sticks her baby in an impromptu bassinet fashioned out of a desk drawer.
The challenge of full-time parenting while working as an artist has forced the artist to adapt in order to keep making work. Her trick is a program called Procreate, which allows her to draw and erase on her iPad.“I used to work in watercolor, but after I had my baby, I just couldn’t wait for paint to dry,” she says. “I had to convert to a fully digital way of working. I like it because I can stop and start whenever I want to, and it’s fairly portable.”
A Canadian immigrant who moved here in 2007, Kendra’s work has been influenced by the American political landscape, particularly by the 2016 presidential election.“I didn’t get citizenship until 2017, when it was too late to vote. But I really wish I’d been able to,” she says. “Having Trump get in was just so painful. If there was a possibility for him not to get in again, I wanted to be a part of it.”
In 2019, she partnered with Culture Surge, a coalition of artist and activist organizations, to create her “Vote Squad” illustration for their Mask or Mail voting campaign. This piece was turned into a mural by Culture Surge for the runoff elections in Georgia. The illustration feels both crystallized in time and timeless, with its hopeful illustration of three voters holding their ballots aloft.
When it comes to her work, regardless of whom it is targeted at, representation matters.
“We need to keep showing diversity in our work as artists because the more work that’s out there like that helps normalize diversity, whether it’s by artists or art directors doing books, commercials or magazines,” she says.
Kendra says her lettering work is inspired by some of the textures of duotone and halftones, a popular way to print comics in the ’80s and ’90s. In one of her first pieces, a mock cover called “Battle Royale” for an exhibit at Gallery1988, the artist connected two Ts into swords. She then progressed to hand-lettering fonts for greeting cards and commission work.
Kendra says she is grateful to be living in the Valley during the pandemic, with more space to work and walls to create art on. And she views herself as a true local. She gets regular delivery from Joe Peeps Pizza, orders food from Harvest Moon and green tea lattes from Blvd Cafecito—all perfect backdrops or inspirations for her next great illustration.