ART SEEN: Tiko Kerr reinvents himself with new work and Instagram
ART AND WAR, paper collage, 2016
by Kevin Griffin - Vancouver Sun
Published on: January 13, 2017 | Last Updated: January 13, 2017 4:28 PM PST
I first saw the images on Instagram. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s become the world’s newest online gallery for visual art.
While the ‘ah-hah’ moment happened sometime in September, I can’t recall which image I saw first. Was it the Mona Lisa with the face of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica? Or the ghostly image of Joseph Beuys? Or parts of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe arranged as a kind of Sphinx-like icon?
What I do know is that they intrigued me from the moment I saw them. They were disturbing in the way they played with my image bank of art history. The combination of pieces of images from different contexts made me think they had broken some kind of aesthetic rule — and that was exactly why they were good. They were both irreverent and reverent, thrown together and deeply considered.
At some point I realized the images I’d been seeing were the work of Tiko Kerr. I found that difficult to believe. Tiko Kerr? He’s a painter, I thought to myself. What’s he doing on Instagram? What’s he doing making these images that look like art history glitches? What’s he doing breaking out of the category I’d put him in?
Later, what I discovered interested me even more. The images I’d been seeing were collages. Kerr has been buying books and cutting out art works and images of artists he’s always admired and putting them together in surprising new ways. His collages are the result of creation and destruction: a work of art made by destroying books about art. There’s a violence in the physical act of cutting as well as in placing the sharp edges of one image fragment against another. The destruction of art books was also a problem for me as someone who loves the physicality of books, especially big art books with wonderful images of artists and their works.
Kerr’s destruction of art books is probably the kind of thing that had to await the decline in the cultural authority of the book and its descent to mere object — a state of affairs which saddens me. But there’s no denying what’s going on. People are increasingly seeing images of art online and no longer in books like they once did.
I wanted to find out more about Kerr’s collages so I phoned him for an interview.
He was direct about what he was doing. The collages came out of a need to find a new direction as an artist.
“I was ready for a change,” he said.
“I was getting really good at my old tricks. I could have done that forever and been rather successful. I’m not that kind of person.”
Kerr’s process of finding a new way to make art wasn’t straightforward. It included the actor Nicola Cavendish, who was in a play about a homeless man called The Goodnight Bird, telling him he could display new work at the Kay Meek Centre Studio Theatre where it was being staged. That made him start thinking about how the homeless are treated and how they become invisible to most of us in the landscape.
THE BEUYS IN THE SHOWER, paper collage, 2016
“I began being occupied with the idea of how we lose sight of each other,” he said. “Literally: how do we become invisible?”
He said he was also thinking about visual idea of camouflage and pareidolia, the human ability to make sense out of abstract forms such as seeing “faces in cappuccino foam.”
Into the mix went his concerns about social issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, Islamophobia and religious fundamentalism. He started thinking about an imaginary invisible figure. He gave him a name: Onus.
“It started opening up interesting associations,” he said. “The collages happened really quickly and without too much judgment. It’s really automatic.”
When he started playing with his material, he began seeing patterns. He cut out Mickey Mouse, for example, and changed his context so it became Walt Disney contemplating Francis Bacon.
WALT DISNEY CONTEMPLATING FRANCIS BACON (After Warhol/Bacon, paper collage, 2016
In the past three weeks, he’s left figures behind and started moving into abstract forms. The change coincides with a diagnosis that he has liver cancer.
When I said how sorry I was to hear that, Kerr, a long term HIV survivor, replied: “I’ve been through worse.
“I’m really looking for this medium of cutting up paper as a method of expressing my psychological inner life. The abstractions are me trying to figure out how to go forward.”
Kerr said Instagram has opened up a whole new world and allowed him to start conversations with people he would never have other wise met. It also made him realize how many incredibly talented people there are in the world.
“I made a promise to myself that every day I do another collage and post it,” he said.
“It is another great way to move forward and tying the work together so that it develops in some kind of continuum.”
Instagrammers have responded to his work. He’s now at 7,654 followers and climbing.
You can see his work on Instagram and his website. His next show of collages and paintings based on collages opens Friday, April 7 at South Main Gallery.
“I really feel that I’m at the top of my game right now,” he said.
“Because of my health situation I have nothing to lose. I’m really excited about my work being some sort of record of my journey here.”