Controversy is in the eye of the beholder in Boehm exhibit

By: SANDRA KRAISIRIDEJA - For the North County Times
Wednesday, January 25, 2006 11:27 AM PST

Are Kenney Mencher's paintings perverse or is the perversion in the mind of those who view his paintings?

That's the question the provocative Bay Area artist enjoys posing in his exhibitions. While Mencher does include some racy imagery in his work, it's his paintings with more subtle context that stir up the most controversy. 

A piece like "After the Game," which is part of Mencher's current exhibit at Palomar College's Boehm Gallery, humorously depicts a female cheerleader looking disdainfully at a naked boy who is holding two pom-poms and jumping in front of her with glee.

The context of "Scoutmaster" and "Candy Striper," however, are not as clear.

In "Scoutmaster" a blindfolded man is smiling while two young boy scouts stand uncomfortably at the wall watching him.

There is something creepy about the blindfolded man's smile and that is what Mencher intended. He remembered it was always a little strange watching adults play games, especially if they were a little drunk.

In "Candy Striper" an attractive blonde in a candy striper uniform stands behind an elderly patient.

On his Web site,, Mencher comments that how a painting is interpreted has more to do with the attitude of the viewer than the actual subject of the painting. Mencher's paintings are not shocking, but they can raise an eyebrow.

In 2003, the Hang Gallery in San Francisco stopped representing Mencher's work because the gallery's employees felt his work was too "wry and perverted," according to Hang Gallery director Michelle Townsend. Then in 2004, four of Mencher's paintings were removed from the lobby of the California State Teachers' Retirement System office.

None of the paintings that were removed from the office depicted nudity in an offensive way. It was the sexual context interpreted in the imagery that brought them down.

One of the paintings that was removed, "Another Roadside Attraction," depicts an attractive young woman in a black dress and standing outside the passenger door of a car. She is motioning as if she is about to get in.

Mencher, who is an associate professor of art and art history at Ohlone College in Fremont, surveyed his students about the painting and was surprised to find out that some thought he was depicting a prostitute about to get in the car with a customer.

Does Mencher consider himself a controversial painter?

"The controversial aspect is something the galleries play up a lot, but I actually think that it says more about how dirty-minded other people are. My intention was not to make dirty paintings," he said.

While the controversial paintings have brought Mencher a good deal of press and notoriety, he said he is moving away from the subject matter that propelled him into the spotlight.

These days, the subject matter in his paintings is more about relationships between people and the concepts of proverbs, metaphors and cliches.

"I don't want to keep making paintings that are in your face with the nudity or sexual content because my priority is to make good paintings, not controversial paintings," he said.

Mencher's paintings are on display through Feb. 10 along with a group of photo collages by artist Janet Mackaig, who said she draws on her background as a poet and a storyteller to create visual stories with collages, which combine photographs of people, landscapes, animals and hand-drawn images.

After the Game, 
oil on canvas 24x36"

Candy Striper, oil on panel 24x24"
Click on images to enlarge them

Scooby Snack, oil on wood 10x16"

Scoutmaster, oil on wood 18x24"

July 4th, oil on panel 20x20"

Three's Company, oil/canvas 36x36" 

Unplugged, oil/canvas 24"x30" 

Morry's Memento, oil on panel 24x36"