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SELF PORTRAIT (Baconesque), acrylic on canvas, 60 x 40 inches, May 2016
Tiko Kerr - Body Language

“What is important to me in my work is the identity that is hidden behind so-called reality” – Max Beckmann, July 1938

As one of the masters of figurative expression who has inspired Tiko Kerr's new exhibition, Body Language, Max Beckmann is an interesting starting point for considering what Kerr is doing with his own puzzling out of identity. An early German modernist and great satirist, Beckmann contrasted the rising right-wing sentiment during the Weimar Republic – with its baiting of race and religion and its narrow categorization of people – with a more open, distorted, carnival view of individuality. Under Hitler's rule, Beckmann's work was included in the infamous Degenerate Art Show in 1937 and impugned for the way it revealed a more complex appreciation for the fraught psychological layers of that troubled time. Demagoguery always requires simplistic definitions about identity – stock characters make easier scapegoats. As one reviewer put it, Beckmann sought to show “the true self behind the masks” and was banned for such visual dexterity. But apparently every age needs reminding that all is not as it appears to be – ours included. We are all more complex than some would have us seen. Fortunately, Tiko Kerr has a more expansive view.

In
Body Language, Kerr sharply challenges how our culturally-encoded systems of perception often overlook the full complexity of individuality. Through his research into pattern recognition and his cunning use of collage, Kerr presents a beguiling collection that leads the viewer to initially believe they are seeing one thing only to have them pull in closer for a more unexpected, ambiguous and liberating consideration of these scenes and the kaleidoscope of individuality they seek to artfully elevate. There is more to see in everyone than we first realize - including Tiko Kerr himself.
ALEXANDRIA DUET, paper cut collage 17.25 x 17.25 inches, framed, May 2016
Kerr initiated his papercut collages with the lone figure of a homeless person – which he named Onus – hooded and hunched over. Societal indifference and faulty judgments often serve to camouflage – and diminish – homeless people. Onus, properly named, became Kerr's call to action and an agent of change for his art. After a long painterly career focused on expressively personal landscapes, Kerr was inspired to reconnect to the curious challenges of figurative art, his first love. In Body Language, Kerr's collection considers not only how the body gets interpreted but how it gets expressed.

Kerr's papercuts are a marvel of sophistication, empathy and a dry Canadian wit – so many clever puzzles of perception that twist our expectations. What does it say of our times when “
Mother Courage” standing on shore looking toward a boatful of refugees consists of nothing more than billowing white curtains and a random nose. And what are we to make of the “otherness” of the Middle Eastern pair in Alexandria Duet who seem more fashionable and funky than foreign. Or the contrasted duo in Our Better Angels where the hieroglyphics of contemporary (gay) art faces the artful expression of Arabic before a backdrop of dark figures that seem to consist of clippings from fashion magazines. But the collection in Body Language also speaks in a personal way to the layers of associations and loyalties that help define Kerr's own self-portrait as an artist. In the grouping Kerr calls Catalysts, he gives a sense of his own artistic heroes – the elements and emotions that form part of his own collage. Matisse and his colourful optimism for life's journey; Ai Weiwei who also packs activism into his art; Jack Shadbolt who remains an explosive force of inspiration; and Warhol with his soup can warning about how art is always confronted by commercial realities.
THE THREE GRACES, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 inches, May 2016
In Kerr's making, the body and the interpretive dance of its identity is a source of endless curiosity and meaningful complexity. And personal joy. In Earthly Powers, he raises his own flag built from the collaged bits of various inspirations. The piece stands as a cairn to the value of creative individuality. And in The Three Graces, modelled after the Greek deities found in Botticelli's Primavera, Kerr presents a welcoming embrace to the intriguing truths that come with a mix of identities. In Greek mythology, the female trio represents one who gives, one who receives, one who returns. They form a perfect circle of benevolence. It seems for Kerr, the rites of spring should be marked by a happy dance to the pleasure and power of diversity. Don't let anyone try to trump that.

- Barry Dumka
© 2016 TIKO KERR All Rights Reserved