“These Painters Happen To Be Women”

Jeanne Willette, 1996

Called one of the seven best painters in Los Angeles by a prominent critic, Barbara Kerwin is seeking to do nothing less than to un-define and re-define that which we call “painting.” Traditionally, “painting” is thought of as a thing, an object, an end product, but this artist has replaced “painting” from the end to the beginning. Her work is always a conceptual meditation upon how to communicate ideas through art and part of her thought process is to re-think the traditional forms of art: why must a painting hang passively on a wall? Why can't it be a form in itself and be placed, actively situating itself in space? And in an even more disrupting disturbance of the sacred space of the gallery, why can't a work of art be touched and caressed like a human being? As if they were human, these paintings have backs and fronts and can be removed from their brackets and turned over, recto to verso. Like Edwards, Kerwin is concerned with the body, but her body is that of each painting that she brings into being as a shaped and skinned object through a slow process of building up layers of gel. Placed lower than eye level, Kerwin's soberly colored paintings are tensely and tenderly physical but were made in a mental state that was almost trance-like in periods of mourning and in times of fulfillment, conveying honest and open feelings to the receptive viewer. Built and constructed, the paintings become containers of the artist's thoughts and invitations to the viewer to violate museum taboos to touch, to feel and to handle. Shift the weight, smell the smell, experience the textures, see the colors, feel the wounds and trace the healing.