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Bradley Kerl: Verdant Botanicals and Expressive Color

Texas painter Bradley Kerl, represented by Houston’s Jonathan Hopson Gallery, is well known for his verdant botanicals, chimerical still lives, and desire to uplift anything dismissed as mundane. His expressive color, flattened shapes, and indelible mark-making seem to set his work paradoxically between representational realism and abstract expressionism.

As one of our local favorites, Weingarten Art Group recently visited his Houston studio with a client to preview his work for their growing collection. While we were there, we took the opportunity to get to know him a little bit better.

Bradley gives us an closer look into his process, practice, and inspiration:

Q: Botanicals and everyday objects are often the focal points of your artworks. What draws you to these subjects?

A: They say paint what you know, and I’ve always found inspiration in the people, places, and things that surround me and that make up my daily experience. I love the idea of using something seemingly banal and/or recognizable as the vehicle for radical painterly exploration. I like to think of my work as abstract paintings disguised as representational paintings. Familiar subject matter is also an easy entry point into my work — newcomers and afficionados alike often discover something beyond the immediately recognizable imagery.

Q: Your work often combines flattened perspective, an emphasis on shape and line, and vibrant composition. How long have you been developing your personal artistic language?

A: I’ve spent the better part of the past decade developing as a painter, and while my work has a particular look and feel to it, I don’t preoccupy myself with thoughts about my “style” or “artistic language.” I think that most people just have a natural way of doing these things; a good analogy might be your penmanship –– for the most part it sort of looks the same your whole life with subtle and incremental variations and developments.

Q: What is one of the most surprising aspects of your process that people would be intrigued to know?

A: It’s always surprising for people to see how much work goes in behind the scenes in a painter’s studio. For most of my paintings, I work from photographs and other source material into as many as 3-4 drawings and studies before moving to a final painting.

Q: Who are your art heroes, and how have they influenced your style?

A:The list is long and ever-changing, but Matisse, Bonnard, Katz and Hockney are always there. For the most part, I look to my heroes for inspiration or validation when it comes to choosing subject matter or deciding what to paint.

I’ll say to myself, “if Matisse can paint a turtle, why can’t I paint a produce truck?” I think it’s nice to have company when you’re taking a risk on a weird painting.

Q: Has Houston’s art scene changed significantly from when you began painting and exhibiting in Houston to now?

A: Houston’s art scene is incredibly dynamic and diverse—just like the city—and like anything else has its ebbs and flows. It’s made up of so many dedicated, energetic people from artists and dealers to the curators and collectors that make the whole thing tick. We lose a lot of talent on all fronts to the bigger art markets of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, but on the whole, I would say that Houston’s art scene has only improved since I moved here in 2011.

Q: What is one example of an art piece that made you say “I wish I could have painted that!”

A: Basically, anything Matisse made makes me say “I wish I could have painted that!” To me, his work is so deceptively simple and casually perfect, a combination that seems achievable but actually takes and incredible amount of intelligence and know-how to pull off. The one painting I think about the most is his “The Piano Lesson.”

Q: Are there any exciting new talents you’re following right now?

A: The art world feels much smaller and accessible these days thanks to the likes of Instagram and online auction sites like Artsy, Paddle8, etc. That said, I still get the most satisfaction watching my closest friends and peers working hard and succeeding in garnering well-deserved attention. I’m always watching what Cody Ledvina, Shane Tolbert, Jonathan Ryan Storm and Kevin McNamee-Tweed are up to. All four have strong Houston and/or Texas ties but have since moved on to other pastures.