Bradley Kerl: Balm at Ivester Contemporary evokes a sense of calm and reminds us that life sometimes contains something of the sublime, as long as we keep looking for it.
Bradley Kerl: Balm
May 22–June 26, 2021
Ivester Contemporary, Austin
Bradley Kerl’s pictures are clearly made for and about looking. Whether they depict a tidy Italian garden, a cool sunset vista, or a jubilant mess of flowers, the Houston artist’s brightly colored, carefully composed oil paintings catalog Kerl’s gaze, and inevitably draw ours. Often structured around windows, mirrors, and phone camera views, each of Kerl’s works springs from a quiet, prolonged look at the world. In his solo exhibition Balm at Ivester Contemporary, Kerl’s pleasant pictures evoke a sense of calm and remind us that life sometimes contains something of the sublime, as long as we keep looking for it.
For example, A Warehouse Window Sunset (all works 2021) is just what its title suggests: a darkened warehouse window frames—for a moment—a passing, cottony pink cloud. It’s a simple, even banal construction that also hums with pathos. And yet, Kerl’s placid, even hand manages to draw something transporting out of the image without falling into cliche.
Kerl’s canvases also increasingly integrate the influence of the artist’s young children. At nearly seven by five feet, Son, Sun, Lily & The Moon is a meticulous copy of a drawing by Kerl’s son in oil paint. The artist reproduces the original sketch’s haphazard scribbles, planet stickers, and even the frayed edges of the notebook paper at a monumental scale. With it, Kerl softly pokes fun at art-historical gravitas while finessing an unexpected set of technical challenges.
Rainbow Sunset at The Carpenter is another trompe l’oeil. This time it’s a piece of colored paper tacked to a corkboard. The corkboard’s speckled surface has been rendered in funky, unblended marks that hint at the artist’s quirky sense of humor. In both works, Kerl seems to have absorbed some of the freshness and liveliness of his kids’ first sketches. Whether looking through a window or at a child’s drawing, Kerl’s paintings are a celebration of the meditative moments that occur when we pause to truly observe our surroundings.