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Simon Kerr: Stuck in the Middle of Me
August 26, 2015 @ 10:00 am - September 16, 2015 @ 3:00 pm
Above: Home Handyman – ‘This is me trying to fix my heart. To my right is me, the boy watching in horror as I hammer away. To my left with a hand on my shoulder is the calmer me – I am comforting the home handyman.’
The Depot Artspace is proud to present an exhibition of new paintings by Simon Kerr, running from 26 August until 16 September.
Simon Kerr, one-time member of the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall gang, prison escapee and activist has turned his remarkable talents to painting, creating a body of work which is both narrative and allegorical, the story of his life and redemption and a commentary on the place of human beings in the world. These works are often autobiographical in nature, exploring Kerr’s controversial history and his Devonport upbringing.
Simon Kerr gained notoriety in the 1980s when he set up the Hole in the Wall Gang (complete with t-shirts!). He also made headlines throughout the 1980s for numerous escapes from custody, including from Mt Eden and Paremoremo prisons. He stowed away on a cargo ship to Australia after escaping from Mt Eden in 1987. In 1994 he mounted a 13-day rooftop turret protest against remand conditions in Mt Eden that ended with the Armed Offenders’ Squad forcibly bringing him down.
Scattered throughout the many years Simon has been imprisoned during his adult life, he has continued to write manuscripts, some of which have been optioned by significant directors, including Ian Mune. In the last few years Simon has concentrated on his painting – a skill that he continues to build on and that is winning him broad recognition and acclaim.
I am not looking to be accepted by society, I want to contribute to it. I don’t want to add my mess to it in a destructive way. As I have in the past. I want to give all that mess a home. For good. A place where it won’t cause any trouble for anyone. A picture on a wall is a safe place for it all to live now and a place where people can look at it and say ….. “Well, thank f**k that’s all over, things were getting messy there”. – Simon Kerr, 2015
Simon Kerr art on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simon.kerr.artist?fref=ts
Interview with Simon Kerr – conducted by Louise Evans
When did your art practice start? How did you arrive at painting as a form of expression?
I used to come to prison and if I could, I would do a couple of paintings. Nearly always centred around the outlaw Ned Kelly and the police. Nothing much really.
When I started this six and a half year sentence, I did a lot of writing in the first couple of years and then I heard that there was an art class so I put my name down for it. I went to it and the art tutor was a woman called Sandra Harvey. She told me that to be in the art class, it was compulsory to do the proper course that everyone had to do. I didn’t really have any interest in doing it so she told me I couldn’t be on the art programme.
I asked her if I could just stay for the day and paint on an old piece of broken board that was in the room. She said OK, just for the day. I painted ‘This is just what my life is’ and left it there and went back to my cell.
The next week my name was called out to go to the Art Programme so I went. Sandra handed me a canvas and told me to paint and to keep busy. And so I have, for two years now. I’ve been blessed not having to do the actual programme. Sandra got sick and had to leave but once again I struck gold with her replacement, Beth Hill who has made sure I paint in the deep end and avoid structure and rules of art.
What spurs your need to create a painting?
When I have a thought come into my mind, or a memory, I like to put it in a mirror. I could write it or I could paint it. Have a look and go, oh yeah that’s what that or this is or has been about. I guess I’m just having a look at things born from me or my interpretation of certain experiences and observations.
Has the process of making art changed your perspectives on life? Has it acted more than simply an outlet for creativity?
I guess the answer to question two, is the answer to this.
Your colour palette and style have gradually changed over the years, is this a conscious shift?
Yeah, I never noticed that until Linda Blincko mentioned it. Strange huh? Darker, my mood, unsure of where I am going perhaps? I don’t know really. The years from 1967-1970 were very busy for me. Lots of hopes and defeats. I guess that those years memories have set the tone for this exhibition.
The written word features strongly in your art. Do you consider the two to be intertwined? Or do you develop your writing as a separate entity?
Yep. Look, I’m not an engineer of paint or a technician of it being put on to canvas. That’s for the greats. I have lived somewhere in someway and I am just trying to tell that. Words, colour, mess, shambles, mistakes and more mistakes. They all go together to tell my story. Without them I would be painting someone else’s picture. I plead Popeye… “I am what I am, not what I’m not’.
What other artists/experiences/people have influenced your art making?
Oh wow…. That’s crazy. What and who hasn’t influenced me? The only people who haven’t are people I don’t know anything about and the experiences I have never experienced. If you notice someone or something, then you are either influenced into them/it or away from them/it. I’m constantly affected or disaffected. Either way you look at it, it’s influence.
How do you receive feedback for your work? Is it important to you to get this?
Mmmm, I’d like to say no. I will say no, but I don’t know whether I have been in the ‘art trenches’ yet long enough for it to be relevant.
On your release, what do you hope your life to look like?
I have an idea that there will be change but in what way I don’t know. That depends on so many things. What will happen when I get out! I still have fifty four years of histories. So many stories. And what about love? I will be in it’s physical arms I am out. The safety of it thrown into the busy world. I will go to sleep in the arms of it at night and wake up in it. That will be different after so many years sleeping and waking in it’s (loves) constant distance. That is a story I want to tell one day. So there will be change I guess… What do you reckon?
How do you want to be perceived by the outside world? Where do you see your place in it now?
Remember Popeye? He wasn’t such a bad guy. I am what I am, but am is moving I.