Earl Kerkam

exhibition dates: March 29 - April 23, 2011

reception: March 31, 6 - 8 pm

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Thomas Berding, Lost in Conversion, 2016, oil, acrylic and flashe on canvas, 69” x 62”.jpg

The Painting Center is pleased to host an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Earl Kerkam (1891-1965). The show will have a range of works that include still-lifes, portraits, self-portraits, heads and figure studies. This is the first Kerkam exhibition in New York since 1994.

Kerkam designed movie posters for Warner Brothers during the early 1920’s earning the extraordinary sum of over $20,000 annually. In a story that recalls Gauguin, Kerkam gave up financial security and his family and settled in Paris to study art at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. In the early 1930’s Kerkam began to show in Paris and he was invited to participate in a two person show with Andre Derain, an admirer. Waldermar George, the French art critic, wrote, “Kerkam eludes identification with any particular school, ancient or modern. His style is distinctly his own. He retains his artistic integrity.”

By 1935 Kerkam was back in America, moved to New York, and joined the Easel Project of the WPA. On the Easel Project he met Gorky, Avery, de Kooning, and Pollock, among others. He showed regularly in New York at several galleries including the Charles Egan Gallery. When he was evicted from his studio on 54th St., Franz Kline, a close friend, offered to share part of his studio with him. Elaine de Kooning wrote an article “Kerkam Paints a Picture” for Art News in 1950. In 1955 and 1956 he had shows at the Poindexter Gallery, where Al Held, DeNiro, Diebenkorn, Nell Blaine and Olitsky also showed.

In an often told story, Kerkam, in Paris during 1952, sent a postcard to Jackson Pollock on the occasion of Pollock’s first Parisian show. Pollock, back in New York was concerned about the show’s reception. Entering the Cedar Bar and waving the postcard, he was able to gleefully announce that “Earl says it’s not bad.” At an opening of his work in 1963, a friend asked Kerkam, “Where are the people?” “They’ll come when I die. I’m not a fashionable man,” he replied. In 1965, after Kerkam’s death at age 74, de Kooning, Rothko, Guston, George Spaventa, Esteban Vicente, and others, petitioned the Museum of Modern Art to organize a show of his work saying “Kerkam in our eyes is one of the finest painters to come out of America.” The exhibition is curated by Craig Manister with the cooperation of the Estate of Earl Kerkam and steven harvey fine art projects. It is supported in part by the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation; Milton and Sally Avery Foundation; and Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Foundation. An illustrated catalog will be available with texts by John Yau and Jennifer Samet. 

WALL STREET JOURNAL REVIEW BY LANCE ESPLUND

'Earl Kerkam (1891-1965): Paintings & Works  On Paper'

Soon after the death of Earl Kerkam, six artists, including Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann and Mark Rothko, wrote a letter to the Museum of Modern Art's board requesting that they grant an exhibition to this School of Paris figurative painter—who never actually bought into Abstract Expressionism. "Kerkam in our eyes is one of the finest Painters to come out of America," they wrote, "and as working Artists, we could afford the stimulation such an exhibition would provide us, and the younger generation of Artists who have not had the opportunity to study his work.

"MoMA's show never materialized, and scant one-person exhibitions have been mounted since, which is why this grouping of 28 paintings and drawings is so welcome. Though uneven as a show (I've seen better Kerkams), the exhibition's self-portraits, still lifes and nudes makes a strong case that reverence is well-deserved. Drawing on André Derain, Juan Gris, Matisse, Giorgio Morandi and Jacques Villon, Mr. Kerkam built masterfully solid and architectonic pictures, twinkling with light, that express universal values. His figures and flowers convey not the particularities of the observable world, but its essences. This simulating show proves that Mr. Kerkam still deserves a larger, more representative museum survey.