Susanne Kerr’s paintings are complex architectures of line, decoration, and figure; they are psychological and social landscapes in which multiple narratives play out simultaneously. An elaborate language of metaphor and exacting techniques are employed by Kerr to embed the human subjects into the very structure of these surreal spaces. Floating in gilded cages or adrift in rowboats, the predominantly female figures are often different iterations of one archetype; individuality is subsumed beneath repeated detail and form. Referencing the illustrative and printing traditions of China, Japan, and India, Kerr’s strictly disciplined mark-making and shallow perspectival planes spatially constrain the subjects she depicts. This deft technical control of her medium subtly underscores the overt themes of confinement and entrapment: women ensnared by flowing ribbons, archers rendered headless and unseeing, and individuals reduced to flower-filled outlines. Disquieting and emotionally charged, Kerr’s works dare the viewer to witness intensely private moments that have been laid bare for public consumption.
Kerr disrupts any straightforward reading of her paintings by combining disparate motifs within a shifting framework. Objects and subjects are presented in relation to one another but their relationship to each other is not immediately clear. Her use of negative space hints at expansive horizons but also makes us acutely aware of the limited, two-dimensionality of the surface. Floral imagery shifts between realist depiction of specific blooms and the stylised abstract flowers of Chinoiserie patterns. The use of techniques such as gilding and verre eglomise (gilded-glass) reinforces the materiality of the artworks and at the same time, Kerr employs shadowing and modeling to create naturalistic effects of three-dimensional depth. The juxtaposition of unsettling imagery with intricate patterning, rich gold accents, and blossoming florals imbues her works with fraught tension.
Susanne Kerr completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Ilam School of Art, University of Canterbury in 2000. She has been exhibiting since 2005 and has been a regular finalist in both the Wallace Art Award and the New Zealand Printmaking and Painting Award. In addition to numerous shows in dealer galleries, Kerr's works have been included in public exhibitions at the Pataka Art Gallery & Museum (Wellington) and the Hastings City Art Gallery. In 2012, she was awarded the Waiheke Island Art Residency, which saw her spend three months working on a body of work for consequent display in the Waiheke Community Art Gallery. Her works are held in private collections within New Zealand and abroad, and are also held in the Wallace Arts Trust Collection at Auckland’s Pah Homestead.