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I AM WHAT I WANT, paper collage and drawing plexi | 17 x 17 inches framed | 2022

Tiko Kerr – Respair Exhibition, February 2023, Mónica Reyes Gallery, Vancouver, BC

By Helena Wadsley

After my conversation with Tiko Kerr about his upcoming exhibition of brand-new work, during which he told me that he makes his collages while listening to jazz, particularly Duke Ellington, I began to listen to some of Ellington’s music myself. Just like Ellington, Kerr has fast and slow pieces, collages loaded with complexity and collages that are elegantly minimal. There are layers to his process that balance fast and slow, just as jazz music does.

During the pandemic, Kerr began creating layered plexiglass pieces. While we quickly became accustomed to plexiglass fences between us, they also connote invisible barriers, the unseen but more profound effects of our isolation. The body of work, playing with three dimensions in a two-dimensional format, reinforced how we see, and how we perceive depth and relationships in artwork and elsewhere. He continues to be inspired by the spatial potential offered by layered plexiglass and its ability to allow shifting light to affect the compositions, which are aptly titled Shadow Poems. Kerr began many of these works by cutting up drawings from as far back as his art school days. He snips into figurative sketches, keeping only the most eloquent lines and organizing them organically into new compositions; the only new marks are made by a pair of scissors, but the significance of the already existing marks is transformed.

I Am What I Want is a poetic description of the unique moment we are in. We are exiting the pandemic, at least the worst of it, but the climate crisis weighs on our future. Each piece is anchored visually, nestled into its surroundings, yet the separation of layers also evokes a floating or uplifting sensation echoing his desire to convey optimism and joy. There is both weight and weightlessness.

For the Eradication of Incurable Sadness, in black, white, and ochre is a good example of Kerr’s intentions. Swift lines of charcoal lead the eye while the earth tones ground the shapes. From every angle, shadows are visible. Organized chaos reflects his playful mood, which is passed to the viewer.

Can we be more empathic if we are more aware of sensory stimuli that is not based on imitation of the real world? I believe this is what Kerr is aiming for. Without a doubt, the world needs more empathy. Figurative work leads us more directly into empathy with the subject. In looking at abstract work, the mind seeks meaningful connections, but when perception becomes untethered from figuration, the mind is free to wander, possibly even into the spiritual or metaphysical.

Guston Cha Cha uses pink, the signature colour of Philip Guston, reminding us of an artist who began as an abstract painter but turned his back to the art world when he began painting figuratively. Kerr has done the opposite, so it is a fitting gesture that he acknowledges another artist who took a 180-degree turn. Earlier in Kerr’s career, he was known for his expressive landscapes. Although his more recent collages have a very different look with their mostly monochromatic palettes, they are made almost entirely from fragments of previous works. This process of re-purposing and sloughing off the inessential matches the societal move towards a reduction in consumption. Kerr’s use of old drawings keeps one foot in the past while questioning what the future has to offer.
Like a jazz standard where the tunes are familiar but evolving over time, Kerr’s new works embrace the familiarity of history and signify the changes we live through.

Helena Wadsley is a Vancouver-based artist whose practice involves textiles, drawing, painting, and video. She has a BFA in Art History and MFA in Painting. Her work considers knowledge systems such as science and literature to identify entrenched attitudes about gender that marginalize the ‘other’ while using craft techniques as a way of drawing traditional women’s labour into the vernacular of contemporary art.

She has participated in residencies in Iceland, Norway, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Morocco, the Dominican Republic and the Yukon. Her work has been exhibited in five continents, and recently in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Orlando, the UK, Korea, Greece, and Canada. She has upcoming exhibitions in Vancouver and Riga,Latvia in 2023. She is a current recipient of a Canada Council research and creation grant that will enable her to work in residencies in Iceland and Finland in response to the vulnerability of the north to climate change.
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