"Trying to make some kind of relationship between complexity and clarity, ... (The paintings) are like trying to work out how to live your life - on a painted surface. And of course you can't really do that. But I try my best." (Claire Kerr, 2013)
Purdy Hicks Gallery is delighted to announce an exhibition of new paintings by Claire Kerr. A publication in the form of a collaboration with writer Hisham Matar accompanies the show, giving an insightful approach to her work rarely experienced before. Matar introduces the small size ("small enough to carry on a single palm") oil paintings on gesso panel with these enigmatic words,
"He returns to the paintings. They impose a certain way of looking, of standing. They have a forensic obsession with detail - obsession but also, he cannot help but think, faith in detail."
Kerr's meticulous attention to details is what characterizes her the best. Not only in the way she renders her painted images almost photographic in their treatment, but also in the way she makes the details of everyday life, places and instances, the central subject of her work. They include an old telegram, dancers in a circle, a creased photograph of birds that seems to have been thrown in the rubbish then rescued and flattened, and a group of landscapes that explore the rich tradition of English landscape painting.
Claire Kerr studied at Magdalen College, Oxford; Wimbledon School of Art; and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. She lives and works in Dublin.
Hisham Matar is the author of the novels In the Country of Men, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, and Anatomy of a Disappearance. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, The Guardian newspaper and several other publications. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Hisham Matar questions the work, asking, "Is it even possible now, in the early chapters of the 21st Century, to look at a pictorial painting?" Answering, "It is as if the painting is insisting that it is a copy. Whether of a postcard of another painting, or of a piece of paper the artist had painted blue then punctured here and there in order to evoke the night stars, the paintings are often a copy of yet another copy. ... They are miniatures, and the miniature has contradictory associations in our minds: it is both precious and a replica, authentic yet remains a likeness. They question originality and realism. ... This is perhaps why - regardless of their beauty, with and intelligence - Claire Kerr's paintings inflict a sort of apocalyptic melancholy. They are, ultimately, an elegy."
These paintings are filled with an acute awareness of the history and tradition of painting, a relationship between clarity and complexity, asking the viewer to replace him/herself in the moment of viewing, and understanding, in tune with the broader world. Kerr states that, "there is too much choice - the challenge of the 21st Century is to give yourself limitations." She seems quietly to ask the viewer "to see what emerges from the surface and smallness and looking at something. Trying to see how complex you can make something that's very, very limited. And very simple." By focusing on such small and overlooked details she reminds one of the beauty and preciousness of the everyday but also she complicates the language of painting in all of what it carries of history and ideas. For Claire Kerr, it is of importance "to think about how you make something have a meaning. And that is the subject matter of these paintings, also. So a painting of a dance is also a painting about what exactly happens when you paint that image on a panel..."
Purdy Hicks Gallery 65 Hopton Street London SE1 9GZ