‘The moment that photography appeared, the descriptive genre began to invade Letters. In verse as in prose, the décor and the exterior aspects of life took an almost excessive place.… With photography… realism pronounces itself in our Literature’ and, he might have said, in our art as well.”
Paul Valéry quoted in Linda Nochlin, ‘Realism’
Kerr’s images flicker between painting and picture making, and the actual and the invented. They seem rather straightforward on the surface (if not a bit peculiar), but for the more adventurous and visually literate viewer, (adept at resolving contradictions), Kerr’s work is a remarkable journey into the meanings of painting in the age of ubiquitous photography.
“These paintings feel their way through a familiar but enigmatic place where an idea, or a representation, interacts with the tangible and real or with the fictional and speculative. They move between meditative stillness and insistent questioning – searching for the emblematic, abstract, ideal, but embracing the unattainable or the unresolvable, aware that objects and ideas in the cold light of day are subject to the details of their existence and to entropy. This searching is not a source of frustration, however, but a kind of relief – of the sort we feel both in silence and in hearing voices in the street, or in being distant and in brushing against something, or in staring out at dark trees from a brightly-lit train. Their ‘subject matter’, if they have any in the conventional sense, is the imagination, a sense of intimacy and privacy and a reaching towards empathy, without which any other kind of subject matter is meaningless.” Claire Kerr, Dublin 2019
The low-hanging fruit in Kerr’s small-scale paintings is to quickly recognize her intense craft, but her subjects, like little mental collage dream sequences, challenge the foundations of art history, that equate grand scale, celebrity, sex and violence with heroicism, triumph and expression. Our feckless magpie generation is teetering between permanent oligarchy and idealogical chaos. And while enormous strides continue to be made, the new millennium seems to be lurching its way back to the values of the 1850’s, on the power of illusions; facts and fictions, falsehoods and truths, the fake and the real, that are blending together into an indecipherable golem soup, like a metastasized inoperable tumor with undefined edges. Claire Kerr mines this richly marbled vein with deep conviction, forging an enigmatic representation of paranormal reality-- Steven Colbert’s Truthiness comes to mind.
As our own willing persecutors we know we are being held hostage by a human tendency towards infantalization and we complain but consume empty caloried pseudo-pop images and beliefs, like so many doms and subs in the Stockholm-syndromed high religion of commercial and personal illusion, spewing, spinning, amusing infuriating shaking the notion of reality and gravitas to its core.
Enter Claire Kerr’s exquisite paintings that require curiosity, patience and quiet (in a time of the din of continuously looping artfairification and our diminishing attentions spans and an overall epidemic of duh). Acting as a kind of rebus (visual puzzle), Kerr presents us with a respite in her small-scale multi-faceted slowly unfolding narratives rendered with what we easily lump into what is known as so-called photo-realist precision. And yet rather than speeding up the reasoning process, Kerr’s slows down the viewer’s ability to resolve the subject and meaning, so that it remains enigmatic in spite of its appearance as something clear.
“Like Zeuxis and Velazquez and Magritte, and all the best painters, Claire Kerr is a fabulist, a storyteller, a maker of truths and untruths. The small and quiet paintings that she fabricates…are meditations on what it means to observe the world and understand our own consciousness - and that is why painting is still so vital and relevant today’ Andy Burgess in ‘The Content Journal’ Issue 4, June 2018.
BravinLee is grateful to r/e projects for introducing us to Claire Kerr’s work. Claire Kerr was born in Northumberland, England and lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. She is represented in London by Purdy Hicks Gallery where she has had numerous exhibitions.
Special thanks to Culture Ireland, promoters of Irish arts worldwide