L.H.O.O.Q. (after Leonardo/Duchamp, paper collage, 12 x 12 inches, 2016
About Tiko Kerr, 2018
by Geoff Plant, Q.C. - Chancellor Emily Carr University of Art and Design

When I ask myself why I am so thrilled by Tiko Kerr’s most recent work, I start with the simple fact that it is visually compelling. Whether Tiko is cutting paper, assembling a collage, or painting a canvas, the result is always unignorable. There are juxtapositions of shape, colour and texture that invariably seem utterly new. They both tease and resonate. My first reaction is often a sort of startled observation: who ever knew you could see things that way? Then follows a second question: how do I make sense of this? Even the most overtly political of his recent pieces are not really didactic; instead, there’s a conversation taking place between ideas that don’t often live together, like when the shapes of iconic cartoon characters are precisely cut from pictures of the paintings of old masters. You’re invited, or maybe the better word is compelled, to sort this out for yourself, to decide whether the right reaction is a nod, a wink, or something more profound. The effects are neither casual, nor accidental. The work can mean whatever you want, but you can’t simply walk by.

There’s more to my admiration. It’s hard to explain but I feel privileged to have been able to watch at least some of Tiko Kerr’s artistic evolution unfold in real time. I can remember when I first discovered Tiko as the painter of scenes of Vancouver, my city, his city, its bridges and buildings and neon signs and skyline and seascape. I had stumbled on someone who could teach me to see the physical setting of my city in surprisingly emotional terms. Everything was exaggerated - straight lines twisted and turned, neon lights vibrated, washed out stone became bright yellows, greens and oranges - but it was if someone had found a different way to tell the truth about our city, to bring us joy and at the same time help us treasure it. I love all those paintings. Some are nearly shocking, they are so bright, others are just plain gorgeous; all, taken together, comprise a fabulous record of a city discovered in translation. And there’s also the haunting personal record in paintings of a life lived for years in a dance between peril and possibility, works that force you to realize that nothing here is a game, and there’s an actual human being with very human hopes and fears holding the brush.

But now there is a very deliberate change of direction. Different techniques and materials, different subject matter. Maybe it’s just that, as a near contemporary, I am an unabashed admirer of anyone who, at a certain age, can decide to discard the comfort of old habits and break off into something new. I marvel at a mind that is so ever-inventive, ever-questioning. Able and willing to put down an old map that has served as a faithful wayfinder for many years and chart a new unmapped course.

I don’t mean to exaggerate the break. There’s continuity, too. Always the importance of colour and texture and shape. The sense that a story is being told, but there’s something you have to figure out for yourself. And one other thing. After the first impression of any work of art, the question I sometimes ask myself is this: if I lived with this picture for a long time, would it eventually start to become a little bit too familiar, or would I find something different in it no matter how many times I stopped to look? .We have one of Tiko's recent paintings on a wall in our home. It’s called the Wrath of Zeus. It began life as a paper cutout collage that served as the inspiration, the study I suppose, for the larger canvas. It’s striking because it’s much more nearly abstract than representational. It’s deliberately mysterious. You have to look harder to see recognizable shapes. What you see finally, perhaps, is a boat, and a dark, storm-tossed sea with hints of sunlight, but there are other shapes that never quite resolve into anything familiar. Or at least, they haven’t yet. But maybe someday they will.

~ Geoff Plant, Q.C.
Chancellor Emily Carr University of Art and Design

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