What are the conditions and effects of urban acts of mark-making? How do these disparate acts work to define the spatial relationship between the individual, the gallery, the institution and the city? Tristan Kerr’s work is an enquiry into the meaning of the city, as he explores the spatial and textural qualities of the urban landscape.

From the slow decay and evolution of surfaces, to the plethora of gestural marks, there is a poignant interplay between consumerism and vandalism across the city street’s surfaces—a tangible tension between torn street posters, the cracking enamel of deteriorating commercial signage, the distinctive hand styles of graffiti, and what remains; the aesthetics of buffing and the remnants of its removal.

Kerr considers the relationship between the graffiti artist, the sign painter and the council worker, and how hegemonic institutional perspectives might impose binary identities on such individuals, though an aesthetic common ground can often exist between them. Kerr parallels the painterly approaches of graffiti writers—who often use extension poles and rollers for large-scale letter pieces, and fire hydrants for the quick dispersal of paint—to the labour of council street workers whose paint buffing techniques and high-pressure cleaning tools strangely mimic the aesthetic of that graffiti which they seek to remove from the cultural archive.

Envisaging the typographic ephemera of this rapidly developing urban landscape, Kerr reflects on the fact that our cities are by nature evolving and transforming, rather than immobile and unchanging. He seeks a new way for the public to engage with and question the barrage of text-based imagery they encounter daily, elevating everyday gestures and markings into spectacle across the picture plane, and reflecting on the dichotomies present in postmodernity.

Questioning the structural integrity of technological perfection, Kerr’s work is further enriched by its inherent humanity, as a celebration of the artist’s hand brings the presence of its creator to the work. The many material, fragmented layers that form within his paintings are a metaphor for the multiple, fleeting histories lived out across the city surfaces on which they meditate.

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