The Painting Center is pleased to host an exhibition of paintings and works on paper
by Earl Kerkam (1891-1965). The show will have a range of works that include still-lifes,
portraits, self-portraits, heads and figure studies. This is the first Kerkam exhibition in New
York since 1994.
Kerkam designed movie posters for Warner Brothers during the early 1920’s earning the
extraordinary sum of over $20,000 annually. In a story that recalls Gauguin, Kerkam gave up
financial security and his family and settled in Paris to study art at the Academie de la Grande
Chaumiere. In the early 1930’s Kerkam began to show in Paris and he was invited to participate
in a two person show with Andre Derain, an admirer. Waldermar George, the French art critic,
wrote, “Kerkam eludes identification with any particular school, ancient or modern. His style is
distinctly his own. He retains his artistic integrity.”
By 1935 Kerkam was back in America, moved to New York, and joined the Easel Project
of the WPA. On the Easel Project he met Gorky, Avery, de Kooning, and Pollock, among others.
He showed regularly in New York at several galleries including the Charles Egan Gallery. When
he was evicted from his studio on 54th St., Franz Kline, a close friend, offered to share part of his
studio with him. Elaine de Kooning wrote an article “Kerkam Paints a Picture” for Art News in
1950. In 1955 and 1956 he had shows at the Poindexter Gallery, where Al Held, DeNiro,
Diebenkorn, Nell Blaine and Olitsky also showed.
In an often told story, Kerkam, in Paris during 1952, sent a postcard to Jackson Pollock
on the occasion of Pollock’s first Parisian show. Pollock, back in New York was concerned about
the show’s reception. Entering the Cedar Bar and waving the postcard, he was able to gleefully
announce that “Earl says it’s not bad.”
At an opening of his work in 1963, a friend asked Kerkam, “Where are the people?”
“They’ll come when I die. I’m not a fashionable man,” he replied. In 1965, after Kerkam’s death
at age 74, de Kooning, Rothko, Guston, George Spaventa, Esteban Vicente, and others, petitioned
the Museum of Modern Art to organize a show of his work saying “Kerkam in our eyes is one of
the finest painters to come out of America.”
The exhibition is curated by Craig Manister with the cooperation of the Estate of Earl
Kerkam and steven harvey fine art projects. It is supported in part by the Wolf Kahn and Emily
Mason Foundation; Milton and Sally Avery Foundation; and Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann
Foundation. An illustrated catalog will be available with texts by John Yau and Jennifer Samet.