Bradley Kerl is a painter, arts educator and father of two young children based in Houston, Texas. His work is an amalgam of lived and imagined experiences that is the result of a rigorous filtering process that includes drawing, photography and collage. Combining input from disparate sources to arrive at recognisable, if not slightly uncanny, images, Bradley engages with the history and materiality of painting while remaining firmly rooted in present-day discourse.
Is there a change in your work since society has become increasingly aware of the world around us?
It’s difficult for me to say if there’s been any discernible change in my work over the past few years of tumult and change. If anything, I think it’s more difficult for me to stay positive amidst the deluge of bad news.
Who are your biggest influences?
Like most artists, I have a huge list of influences, but I think I’m most inspired by those who do their own thing despite current trends and fashions. I’m also always looking for artists who encourage my weirder, crazier ideas. Lately, I’ve been looking a lot at: Stanley Whitney, Chris Martin, Katherine Bradford, Tal R, David Hockney, Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz and Pierre Bonnard.
Is there a message you aim to portray through your work, or feeling you want to provoke?
To a certain extent, I don’t care or think about the message my work provokes. Ultimately, I have no control over what viewers think, so I feel it’s pointless to even try. For me, it’s more about a personal conversation I’m having with other painters and the history of painting. I like to think of myself in the 40,000 year continuum of picture-makers from the cave painters of prehistoric Europe to the present day.
Do you find that your art is reflective of you as a person?
I do think my paintings are reflective of myself, but only the tiniest sliver. However, I’m not sure if that’s important or not –– it’s probably more a factor of the type of diaristic work I make.
What are you currently reading, listening to or watching that inspires your work?
I’m halfway through the fascinating Françoise Gilot memoir, Life with Picasso, and I’ve gone down a dark rabbit hole this summer with probably too many murder/true crime podcasts. I listen to everything, music-wise, and have been leaning heavily on the new Modern Nature, Cate Le Bon, Tim Presley and Chris Cohen. I like being able to rely on music to pick me up no matter what.
Has been a ‘stand out’ or pivotal influential moment in your life/career that has led you to design in the way you do or shaped your outlook towards design?
I can’t think of one pivotal moment that led me to design/create/paint the way I do, but rather a hundred small epiphanies. I can say that it was a real revelation when I found out that most, if not all, creative people struggle with bouts of crippling self-doubt that you simply have to work your way through. Over time, I also realised that trusting my own instincts rather than trying to appeal to someone else’s ideas or tastes — more often that not — seemed to lead me to successes or a break-through. Looking back on the last 10-15 years, I’d say that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, however long it took me to realise. My mantra nowadays is to simply work hard and trust yourself.
EXPLAIN YOUR THOUGHTS AND PROCESS BEHIND THE DESIGNS SUBMITTED
The source of this painting was a screenshot from my friend Mercedes’ Instagram stories (thanks Mercy!). I have an album of screenshots I’ve grabbed from people I follow, and I love the idea of an image that’s ready-made for a painting. Often I labor over developing an image to paint until it’s just right, so appropriating images from friends, magazines, internet, etc. has always been an effective way for me to supplement my own imagery with someone else’s perspective. I made this painting to pair specifically with a group of car paintings I recently made for a show at Gold Diggers, this unique boutique hotel/recording studio/music venue/bar in Los Angeles. For me, the car paintings are more about light and colour than the cars themselves, and I thought the light and colour in the hibiscus photo an appropriate extension of the same idea with a different motif. It’s a very simple image, but it manages to pack a punch with the subtle shifts in light and tone. In an ideal world, all my work would be this simple and effective.
In the simplest terms, my work generally begins with an image that I process in such a way as to strip all unnecessary elements from a central idea. My hope is that the remaining kernel presents a succinct version of the original image/thought/idea/etc. The sunset watercolour, titled Late June Sunset, is a good example of how simple and straight-forward my process can be. At my home in Houston, we happen to have a great westward view, and the sunsets here are often spectacular. Lately, it’s become one of the many rituals in our day to take in the sunset with the whole family. My three-year-old son likes to point out all the colours in the sky and clouds. It’s a gentle reminder that life can be beautiful and simple sometimes, and that’s OK. On this particular evening in late June, afternoon showers gave way to a clear sunset, and I snapped a few photos of the bright, clear gradient. In the painting, I exaggerated the colours a bit and included the power lines to balance out the romanticism, because it’s good to be realistic too.