At what age did you realize you wanted to create art, and what originally peaked your interest?
Creating has been ingrained into my life from a very early age. Whether music or art, there’s really never been a time that I wasn’t making something. I would say that I definitely took that fact for granted for most of my life. My interest in painting was officially piqued during a field trip to MFAH in high school, where I was able to see so many great painters and paintings for the first time in the exhibition that traveled from MoMA titled “The Heroic Century: The Museum of Modern Art Masterpieces.” I remember, in particular, being knocked out by the scale and incredible color of Matisse’s The Dance. I’ve been obsessed with painting ever since.
Throughout your career of simultaneously producing and teaching art, what have you in turn learned from your students?
I’m not sure if I directly learn anything from my students per se, but being in an academic environment undoubtedly keeps me on my toes. I really enjoy watching my students “figuring it out” for the first time –– there’s something special about that joy of discovery that I really respond to. There’s also something about revisiting the same projects and well-worn subjects over and over again and trying to bring something new to it that really inspires me. It’s a creative challenge! Being a student of painting, it is also helpful to be reminded weekly that I still have a lot to learn.
How has building still lives within the classroom enriched your understanding of technique and subject matter, and therefore impacted the compositions of your own work?
In most art classrooms there’s a junk closet with tons of still-life materials. Being limited to a finite amount of disparate objects in which to construct still-lifes on a weekly basis is a real challenge. A still-life is a still-life, but within that form there are so many ways to reconfigure and re-contextualize imagery and subject matter. For my own work, instead of simply using random objects, I mostly use my own objects as a sort of self-portrait. In the beginning, I was more focused on using the still-life genre as a means to practice technique. Now, I’m definitely more interested in subject matter and how you can lead the viewer into an image or create a storyline.
In your more recent work there is a departure into more abstracted compositions. What veered you towards this direction, and how do you balance the relationship between these and your more representational paintings?
Generally, once I mount a larger solo exhibition, I’ll take time to clear the air in my studio. I allow my self this “play time” to be free of the pressure of creating something very specific for a particular exhibition. It’s a good time to experiment with new materials and just see what happens. Now, I’m working to bridge the gap –– I am using the abstract compositions as a sort of template and combining them with more recognizable imagery.
You recently welcomed a baby boy into your family. What is his level of awareness of your artistic practice, and does he often join you in the studio?
Ollie definitely knows where the paintings are made, but he hasn’t actually seen how it’s done. I make an effort to let him run around the studio to see what I’ve been working on while I’m not painting. He’s in a serious identification mode right now, so he loves to point out all the colors and objects –– “green!”, “ball!”, “skull!”, “flower!” I’m really looking forward to a day when I have a studio big enough to allow for a kid zone, especially since we’re expecting another baby in April!
Kerl's work at Texas Contemporary Art Fair, 2016.
Kerl's site-specific still life set at Gensler, Houston.