Art Tonight: The Kettle's Whistling For Tim Kerr's Solo Show

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When I found out that Tim Kerr had scheduled a solo show at Kettle Art, I got a little (read: quite) excited. In the past, the former member of the Big Boys has shown at Austin's Domy Books and Longbranch Saloon, and more recently at Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, but this is Kerr's first exposure in Dallas, proper.

There are a lot of words people use to describe Kerr's stuff: outsider, folk, etc., but he'd be happier if you didn't use any. Not one for labels, Kerr believes that art, music and whatever else you squeeze from your creative pulp should represent pure self-expression, and he's never cared much for the confines of any specific genre.

"Sometimes when people want to talk to me about music they ask me about being in a punk band," he said from his Austin digs, "but I tell them that we weren't punk, we were DIY." While initially that might sound like trading one label for another, Kerr's reasoning goes deeper. In the late '70s and early '80, his bands became what would later be highly influential acts for would-be punk musicians, but back then they weren't aiming in any particular direction. Kerr and his friends made the music they did because they had to. They were compelled to. When they squelched on their instruments together, that is the stuff that came out. He uses the same approach to art.

Here's a video of Tim Kerr painting a Willie Wells Mural in Austin.

Kerr's art keeps stories alive. Each piece features a historical figure drawn in a primitive fashion, then flushed out with bright colors. The result is the visual equivalent to a jazz session: free-form and spontaneous but with a defined narrative current. They're all created on found objects: cardboard, school maps, chalkboards -- anything he scavenges that looks fun is fair game. To Kerr, this just makes sense. Let other bands play on a stage; he'd rather play on the floor. And let other artists paint on traditional surfaces, "I don't want to paint on canvas," said Kerr, "I want people to look closer and think 'Is that cardboard, or -- what is that?' "

The next thing you notice about Tim Kerr's art is that his muses are inspirational individuals. Musicians like John Coltrane or civil rights figures like Rosa Parks are his primary drive -- and that's by design. Kerr believes in the transference of energy, and that our smallest actions impact those around us. "Let's say you go out to lunch today and somebody sees the pair of shoes you had on, then they went out and bought those shoes: You just influenced them," said Kerr. "It's amazing the influence you can have. I want to be responsible for my actions and be some sort of responsible influence, if I can be." And so he promotes the education of those folks who made a positive change on this lump of planet by incorporating their legacy in everything he creates.

Nearly ambidextrous in his thoughts about music and art, Kerr has figured out a few areas where the two diverge. My favorite is his thought about being a "touring artist." It goes like this: art follows suit with music. Everyone starts creating visual products and influencing one another. Soon there is "art everywhere." Finally, artists go on tour the same way bands do. "Just imagine, we could literally book a tour from here to Portland and just show art," thought Kerr in a creative fervor, "It would be amazing!"

Until that day arrives, we'll take joy from shows like this one, which begins at 7 p.m. and runs until 10 tonight, Friday, April 27. Kerr hinted at a possible musical element for the evening, so prepare to bathe in self-expression. Kettle Art is located at 2714 Elm Street in Deep Ellum.

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