"I am intrigued and inspired by the physical and linguistic expressions that binds us to one another or keep us apart, and the spaces that are settings for, or reminders of those interactions - spaces of crisis, deviance, exclusion, loss, absence, confusion, and isolation."
Susanne Kerr is a NZ painter with an extensive solo and group exhibition record since graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Canterbury University in 2000. Her studio is based in a leafy suburb by the sea and native bush in Wellington. She is represented in New Zealand by Milford Galleries in Dunedin and Queenstown, and is currently working on a new body of work for her first solo show with GallerySmith in North Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
She has been the recipient of the Walker and Hall Michael Evans Figurative Award (2018), NZPPA Merit Award (2015), the Waiheke Island Artist Residency (2012), the Walker and Hall Zinni Douglas Merit Award (2011) and the Wallace Arts Trust People’s Choice Award (2011) and has been a finalist in various art awards throughout NZ. Her work is held in public collections, including the Wallace Arts Trust, and private collections in NZ and abroad. T.J McNamara of the New Zealand Herald has described her work as ‘imaginative, tense, and witty’ (2013).
In the last decade, artist Susanne Kerr has been reflecting on the social connections – spoken and unspoken – that tie people together; and the way humans are increasingly damaging the environment that is their life-force. Drawing on her concern for environmental issues, such as the rapid and detrimental decline of air and water quality, rising sea levels, changes in our food supply chain, and the decline in our endemic species, she is exploring the double-edged sword of how our survival and the depletion of the Earth’s resources are interwoven. Her artistic process is about observing the world and trying to communicate and make sense of current issues, and individual concerns. While her initial ideas are derived from research, sketches and notes from visual diaries, many materialize in the process of creating or experimenting in the studio. Curiosity – the not quite knowing where a thread will go – is what motivates her in her artistic endeavors. As such, an idea may resonate with clarity at the beginning and become more elusive as she pursues it, or quietly unfold and surprise her with its force during the drawing and painting phase. Lacking absolute certainty on how her works will resolve can be both nerve-racking and intriguing, and yet she considers that to be half the fun.
Her paintings evolve from composite drawings made of many small individual sketches on separate sheets of paper. This process enables her to move elements around and to consider narrative, composition, scale, energy flow, and, to reflect and redraw where necessary before they coalesce into the larger drawings that provide the essential structure to her subsequent paintings on paper. While her finished paintings are often alluring at first glance - drawing the viewer in with beautiful colours, patterns, detailing, gilding, Japanese-paper collage, botanical forms, and curling ribbons – these surface embellishments successfully mask the more unsettling elements that simmer below the surface of her paintings. The beauty of them is an intentional aspect, and she does this to encourage the viewer to pause for a second glance and reflect further on the narratives threading through her work.
Shimmering glossy ribbons often appear in her paintings, providing visual structure, rhythm and narrative content. These ribbon-forms bind and gag, caress, threaten, entice, or wind around structures becoming visual allegories of human intent. The last three years has seen the ribbons intertwine and connect people with botanical forms, becoming not only visual metaphors of power, control, and internal conflict, but suggesting our reliance on and our desire to manipulate nature to our advantage. The Japanese and philosophical concept of Ma has become a more considered aspect of her work during this time. Ma is tenuous and hard to describe as it can be spatial and physical, or temporal. As it pertains to the arts, it is the space or void between drawn parts, the silence between notes, or the void inside a clay pot where the concept of pot is realised. As it pertains to Kerr’s work, it is the white space that is present in her paintings, where areas of empty paper serve as a compositional device, revealing the shape of a mountain, river, lake, foliage, or vessel, or it may have no form at all but be an expanse of white paper that gives a pause or a resting point for the eye. In bringing Ma to the foreground of her mind when creating her work she is hoping to offer a visual refuge from the complexity of everyday life.