Visitors to the aptly named “Places to Go, Things To See” – a fascinating art exhibit at – are likely to go away in amazement. For one thing, the artist, Karl Kuerner, exhibits so infrequently, visitors may not be aware of his many artistic modes – the artist as commentator, wry humorist, family memoirist, and agricultural historian, to name a few transitions.
For some, this important retrospective may seem custom designed to transport one to the “places” of the title. Certainly there is a lot to see, including enormous panoramas and modestly-sized paintings depicting everything from a field of French lavender and detailed flower gardens, to the dramatically scaled “Grand” opera house and an expansive, snowy view of a pair of swinging stoplights, seemingly painted from the sheltered confines of a stopped vehicle.
Much like a visitor strolling through a museum – or even an old-time “curiosity shop” – a viewer of Kuerner works is free to take away what they want from the exhibit. To place a finer, scholarly point on it, Kuerner has been described an American realist partly because of his accessibility as an artist. His work defines what the art critic Edward Lucie-Smith calls a commonality between the artist and spectator. To paraphrase a definition in Lucie-Smith’s book, American Realism, the “phenomenon” of such a painting style (and its accompanying philosophical approach) is to present a world as “everyone” would see it.
Here are a few things to consider: Many of Kuerner’s landscapes evoke the somber, earth-tone palette of what has become known as the Brandywine Tradition. But they also reflect what Kuerner calls “creating moments” – moments of time, or moments of emotion.
The Brandywine Tradition includes a particular still life genre known as trompe l’oeil, as anyone who has visited the Brandywine River Museum in Chads Ford is likely to discover. Kuerner acknowledges that tradition, but the trompe l’oeil shown in “Places to Go, Things To See” are also very personal. The meticulously painted “Cast in Stone,” for instance, depicts his father’s Indian head collection. Like much of his work, there is also a story behind “Wishful Thinking,” the trompe l’oeil of a thousand dollar bill tacked to a barn door.
Complicating matters is Kuerner’s own brand of American realism. The writer and essayist, Gene Logsdon, sees it as rooted in Kuerner’s generational ties to the farm, and expressed in his landscapes and animal portraits. Logsdon included Kuerner by way of example, explaining how creativity can spring from rural sources in his book, The Mother of All the Arts: agrarianism and the creative impulse.
I included Kuerner in the “Magic Realist and Storytellers” section of my book, 100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley. But I could have easily placed his work elsewhere – in the “Modernists and Colorists” section, for instance. In the end, though, I anticipate that “Places to Go, Things To See” will reflect Kuerner as an realist – one who advances the Brandywine Tradition in ways that only he could.
In sum, Kuerner is not only among a diminishing group of artists who studied with celebrated Carolyn Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth’s sister, he has found his own means of expressing the oft-repeated Wyeth philosophy to “paint what you know and love.” Going deeper, this artistic distillation process might include the rural outlook of Robert Frost, whose “Stopping by the Woods On A Snowy Evening” is expressed in more than one of Kuerner’s paintings. All this makes Kuerner’s retrospective a “must-see” exhibit.
West Chester University hosts Karl Kuerner's "Places to Go, Things to See".
• Where: The New Gallery, second floor of the E.O. Bull Center for the Arts. West Chester University 700 S High St, West Chester, PA
• Date: The exhibit ends December 16th
• Time: Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 9-4 p.m., Saturday Noon-4 p.m.
Enjoy an enchanting evening and a book signing with Michael Sims, whose new biography of E.B. White, The Story of Charlotte's Web, has been featured on NPR and in USA
• Price:: Free