Kennedy Yanko is shaking up the art world with her fierce and elegant sculptures made from salvaged industrial metal.


This story is part of Health’s #RealLifeStrong series, where we are celebrating women who represent strength, resilience, and grace.

On the streets of industrial Brooklyn, it's not unusual to see construction workers wielding blowtorches. But refreshingly, behind one of those welder's masks is painter-sculptor Kennedy Yanko.

Seven years ago, Yanko was living in the dressing room of a basement apartment and working as a personal trainer, as she tried to make her mark on the competitive New York art scene. “[Fitness] was informative to the work that I was doing as a painter,” she says. Training taught her the discipline and endurance she needed to continue refining her artistic process, she explains.

Today Yanko runs her own art studio in Bushwick, where she reshapes found industrial materials into striking painted sculptures. Her work has been featured in the contemporary art fair VOLTA NY, and in Mashonda Tifrere’s Art Lead Her, a platform that celebrates and promotes female artists around the world.

With success has come pressure, of course. “Every day is an adventure and is constantly changing. However, when I make work that feels powerful to me, it’s a driving force that dissolves any lingering anxiety,” she says. Also helpful: meditation. Yanko relies on her meditation practice to relieve stress, and hone her artistic intuition. “I feel like I have more clarity in my life, and my decision-making is quicker,” she says.

Credit: Photo by Kris Graves

Then there are the physical demands of her job. Once she’s found her materials, Yanko will torch them, pound them with a sledgehammer, and do whatever else it takes to get the look she wants. She then incorporates her flowing signature paint skins, to contrast the enduring quality of the reshaped industrial artifacts.

Whether it’s learning how to weld or working with demolition teams, Yanko seems to thrive when subverting gender stereotypes. “I think if you’re trying to make your way in a male-dominated field the best thing to do is, not to separate yourself,” she says. Though she feels that when it comes to her art, being a woman is actually an advantage in this day and age. “People are interested in what females are doing. They want to see what’s happening on the other side—and they need to.”

Yanko currently has an installation on display at BRIC called “Feel For,” which combines moss with the ceilings of old tenement buildings.

For more of her inspiring story, check out the video above.

We want to hear more amazing stories about #RealLifeStrong women. Nominate yourself—or a friend or family member—here. We’ll be sharing the most inspiring stories we receive in the months ahead.