Detail 'Ride the Wind' by Stephen Kerner
2019 © Stephen Kerner All rights reserved © Plain Jane Design
Stephen Kerner lives with macaws and parrots. His studio, crested on the top of a mountain overlooking the Hudson Valley contains an aviary where these exotic birds fly and speak their mysterious messages. The walls of this room are mostly glass, so that beyond the color and brightness of the macaws, one can see the soft green shadows of the pine trees in the distant mist of the Ashokan Resevoir. The energy and vividness of these beautiful birds, the silent landscape, all inform Kerner's intense paintings . . . a body of work that can be still or chaotic, that can evoke twentieth century expressionism and African storyboards or the prehistoric cave paintings of the first artists. These works are both forceful and silent at the same time. They do not so much tell literary stories, but go beyond that which is just beautiful to their deepest origins.
The bird-headed women, the totemic compositions and blank-faced angels that are found in some of these works appear not so much as painted, but allowed to emerge as flashes of energy . . . their brightness set against the deepest silence. And no matter when he actually painted them, all point to the time that he spent in different countries and worlds of art. From the Lakota Black Hill to Oaxaca, Mexico and the ancient aboriginal traditions of the mudmen of the Ansaro River. There he heard tales of shamans mystically traveling in the tear of a dog's eye across rivers to another shore and to the unknown. Kerner's paintings often feel outside of time itself and drawing on something very old, beyond culture and almost thought.
As with other true artists, Kerner often seems to follow an instinct that leads him to the influences that he needs to complete his work. It is not so much that the art and people he encountered shape what he did, but that he unconsciously knows where to go to find the experiences he needs to create what is already within himself, unformed.
Kerner has said, "That most of these paintings tell stories that are transformed and held on a stage distant from reality." But what kind of stories and how are they told? Clearly, he has moved a great distance away from traditional style of storytelling with its recognizable iconography. And furthermore, these works do not reflect any detailed private system of stories and characters as with William Blake. But instead the figures in Kerner's work go to the most basic sense of tradition . . . images that arise from the unconscious before we elaborate them into plots and characters and explanations. He has found a way to be open to so many traditions of imagery and narrative, that he can descend to a purer place . . . the well from which those traditions draw their complex ideas.