‘Jordan Kerwick: Things we talk about, things we see’ at Vito Schnabel Gallery in September




Image, Jordan Kerwick, Yves beginning and end, 2021; oil, acrylic, and spray on canvas, 78 3/4 x 90 1/2 inches (200 x 230 cm) © Jordan Kerwick Courtesy the artist and Vito Schnabel Gallery

Vito Schnabel Gallery will open its doors to Jordan Kerwick. Things we talk about, things we see, the gallery’s first exhibition dedicated to the Australian-born artist. This intimate presentation, which features a selection of paintings and drawings, serves as a prelude to the artist’s major New York solo show with Vito Schnabel in March 2022 at the gallery’s 19th Street location in the Chelsea Arts District.

Jordan Kerwick has quickly acquired global recognition for his bold, raw and unapologetic approach to palette and pattern, executing vivid, expressionistic and highly-stylized compositions. Domestic objects, predatory animals, and mythical beasts — taxidermy rugs ornamented with geometric markings, double headed king cobras, ferocious fanged tigers, and feather-maned unicorns — populate his figurative canvases and create a contemporary folklore or fable that is playful, kinetic and arcane. Known for his colorful, eclectic still-life paintings, Kerwick’s latest body of work explores the fantastical elements and storied visions of the artist’s interior imagination where new and unknown terrains collide. Using a variety of materials, from oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, to oil stick and collage on paper, the artist’s “the more mistakes, the merrier” approach rejoices in the fortuitous relationships that arise between unexpected combinations of color, texture, and form.

Jordan Kerwick: Things we talk about, things we see. Image via Vito Schnabel

Kerwick’s striking visual language stems largely from his homebody, domestic lifestyle. Art historical references are entangled with ancient iconography. Symbols from Egyptian art combine with tropes from popular culture, such as the bold and electrifying color schemes of comic book series’ heroes and villains. Beyond the wondrous pictorial worlds and fantastical figurative characters that repeatedly populate the artist’s canvases, Kerwick carefully considers the gestural and the abstract in his nuanced construction of richly tactile, courageously vibrant, and flattened compositions. His fresh, authentic lexicon of shapes and color absorbs influence from the heavy-weight hitters of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Hard-edged painting, citing Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Agnes Martin, and the modern genius of Henri Matisse as artists who infiltrate his visual impulse.

The recent paintings and drawings on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery are a cacophonous celebration of Kerwick’s tenacity to articulate surfaces of brash and magnetic prowess. A large-scale canvas standing over 6 feet high, Post-trip (2021) radiates in a blaze of scarlet and cobalt. The chromatic variation Kerwick achieves in the dense, spray-painted red ground radiates with a fiery intensity. Using tubes of oil paint, he articulates thick, tactile lines that are loose and raw, adding detail and dimension to the monochromatic field. His free- floating figures hover on the canvas: a demonized face wears a top hat, a bear snarls and claws its paws. Kerwick adorns the heads of two chameleon green cobras with sacred feathered headdresses. The double symbolism of these creatures dually calls to mind the Uraeus worn by the Gods and Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt as well as the “Feathered Serpent,” a prominent deity of Mesoamerica, including the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The veining patterning of the feathers extends to the geometric ornament of the rug and becomes a recurring motif of formal exploration.

In the more modestly scaled George’s Alternative (2021), Kerwick mines the depths of art history in his reference to the 18th century English painter George Stubbs (1724–1806). He creates a fantastical variation on Stubb’s series of paintings depicting the theme of a lion attacking a horse. Here, Kerwick illustrates a double-headed crouching tiger with blood-red saber-teeth seizing the flanks of a unicorn’s back. The mythical creature’s cerulean and lapis blue body flares. The animal turns its head and points its spiraled horn toward the attacking beasts, which accentuates its flowing, feathery mane. Articulated with broad, rough, sweeping brushstrokes or with bold, thick lines, Kerwick creates powerful and dynamic relationships between the vibrancy and saturation of his palette and the nuanced and dramatic patterning of his forms.

Drawing has recently resurfaced as an integral aspect of Kerwick’s ever-evolving practice. In his new works on paper, the artist explores painterly ideas and color in a quick, free-form manner. Exploring notions of value, tone and hue, the usual animals and symbols inhabit these works, sometimes illustrated in landscapes or as solitary studies. The artist’s recurrent doubling motif persists — a familial nod to the artist’s two young sons. While Kerwick may still be a relative newcomer in the contemporary art world, his rousing and spirited work taps into a youthfulness and childhood nostalgia that finds balance and opposition in the non-sensical and enchanting as well as the primal and menacing energies that lurk within his storied fables.

Jordan Kerwick (b. 1982, Melbourne, Australia) is a self-taught artist who began his painting career in 2016. Recent solo exhibitions include Allouche Benais Gallery, Athens, Greece (2021); Galerie Julie Cadet, Paris, France (2021); Union Gallery, London, England (2021); Pt. 2 Gallery, Oakland, California (2021, 2019); Piermarq*, Sydney, Australia (2020, 2018); Anna Zorina Gallery, New York (2019); a dual show at Masahiro Maki Gallery, Tokyo, Japan and Paris, France (2019); TW Fine Art, Brisbane, Australia (2019); and Delphian Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2018). Kerwick lives and works in Albi, France.

From September 16 through October 30, 2021, Things we talk about, things we see  will be on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery’s 43 Clarkson Street exhibition space in Greenwich Village.