Archive for March 9th, 2019

Earl Kerkam Revisited

I wrote the post below about Earl Kerkam about five years ago. He is an enigmatic character, a painter praised by many of the giants of modern art yet vastly underappreciated by collectors and the general public. I thought I would revisit it today (along with adding a few more images) after going through some auction records of his work from recent years and finding that he is still tremendously undervalued. As I sometimes point out, the artist can only control his creation of the work, not how it is perceived by the outside world. Earl Kerkam is a fine example of that.

earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_orgI am very interested in the painter’s painter, those artists who garner the respect and  admiration of other artists while often not attaining the same sort of attention from the general public. I try to figure out where the disconnect comes in how these artists are perceived so differently by these two groups. I recently came across a prime example by the name of Earl Kerkam, a NY painter who lived from 1891 until 1965.

Kerkam trained in some of the finest art academies here and abroad, studying for a while with Robert Henri. He showed his work in important shows alongside some of the greats of the early 20th century. His work is included in some of the great museum collections of this country. In the aftermath of his death, modern artists of huge stature such as Mark Rothko and Willem  de Kooning proclaimed Kerkam to be one of the finest painters to ever emerge from America.

earl-kerkam1891-1965self-portrait-1361546314_bYet his work is basically unknown outside a handful of art insiders. His work sells at very modest, even low, prices at auction and I doubt if anyone who reads this will have ever heard the name.

There could be many reasons for this relative anonymity. Perhaps his work is too esoteric, too caught up in the dogma of style or too personally narrow in its range of emotional impact. Perhaps his work was caught between eras, never really falling into a classification where he would be swept to the forefront of a wave. This might have something to do with it because, while his work is modern, it never really moved into the realm of the abstract expressionism that was the rage of the day.

I don’t really know and looking at his work I found myself torn between liking it in some instances and being indifferent to others. I can see how both sides, artists and the  general public, might take opposing views on his work. His work remains an enigma to me and I don’t know if I will ever see enough of it, or at least a single piece that could be called a masterwork, to make me say that he deserves to be among the beacons of mid-20th century painting or if he was simply a fine painter who garnered just the attention his work deserved. But for now, the name Earl Kerkam is at least on my radar and I will be open to finding other works from him that will move my perceptions.

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