Triceratops playing with a shopping cart in a long-abandoned K-Mart parking lot? This is my cup of tea, but as the artist stated in the quote, the visual realization communicates something that can’t be conveyed by the concept behind it. It matters that the edges appear soft and the brushwork wispy, which gives the paintings a warm Impressionistic feel. It matters that the giant K falls between the heads of the pair of dinosaurs; that there’s grass coming up from cracks opening in the pavement; that the yellow parking lines point diagonally to the dinosaurs, and that the creatures are roughly the size to fit in a parking space. It’s particularly important that the dinosaurs are not the hyper-aggressive, exaggerated, Hollywood, CGI variety. If you are middle-aged, these are the dinosaurs of your childhood library books.
I’m partial to when I come across places where Mother Nature tries to keep her toehold in our man-made world, like when a tiny flower grows from the crack in the side of a large building.Mickael Kerbow
The paintings are simultaneously about an imagined future devoid of people; the Jurassic era over two millions years ago; our childhood memories; 19th to early 20th century fine art painting; and of course the present.
I’m writing this while America is in lock-down due to the SARS2 coronavirus. Parking lots are vacant, and we are plagued by the advent of a one-celled organism. Nature, in its most primitive form, is presently triumphing over the most technologically advanced civilization.
In Hothead, above, a T-Rex is the king of the mountain of cars (which resemble a junk heap of soda cans). The only part of his body that is in the sun is his head, hence hothead. The remaining stretch of freeway angles directly to his head, indicating the path that has led to this eventuality – societies based on fossil fuels, hundreds of millions of cars, and endlress roads. The sky is a soupy, yellow heat wave. Take a few seconds to notice how many individual cars the artist painted, and the faded colors as the cars recede into the hazy light. It’s a Monet haystack of cars.
One of the characteristics of Kerbow’s art in general is an abundance of detailed elements. His rendition of Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel is a stunning example:
Kerbow can go super refined with the small details, but in this series he’s mostly adopted a more loose, rough style: enough to powerfully convey the images, but not to burden them with excess refinement. They are dinosaurs marching around desolate cities! This time it’s visual Rock ‘n’ Roll, not Vivaldi.
The title of the series is Late Capitalism (as in really late capitalism), and the paintings serve as a warning about the excesses of limitless consumption. The superabundance of vehicles litters the Earth. The dinosaurs are a metaphor for our own, ultimate, self-inflicted demise: we will go the way of the dinosaurs!
When I look around today, I see some things that concern me. Modern society seems to have an insatiable appetite to consume everything in sight. It’s not clear what will be the ultimate consequence of this activity, but the planet is already showing signs of the negative impact. I believe man-made climate change to possibly be the most important issue we face today. And yet we aren’t sufficiently changing our current ways of being. Instead we appear to be addicted to this non-sustainable paradigm, and it is leading us towards a dark, uncertain future.Michael Kerbow
In the painting on the easel above, we sea a T-Rex approaching an oil pump — a living fossil coupled with fossil fuel — in a red landscape implying the sunset of civilization. Their shapes mirror each other, and the red earth suggests the blood of the giant carnivore’s feasts.
Cynicism, Dark Humor, and Warm Humanity
My work tends to have a “dark” sensibility which some people may shy away from. But those who enjoy my work are often drawn to its dark humor and the imagery. If I’m able to create an emotional reaction in the viewer, whether positive or negative, then I’ve accomplished something.Michael Kerbow
There is a dark theme in these paintings, and it is pessimistic, but even if that puts you off — or like a vast majority of conservatives you don’t even believe in anthropomorphic climate change — there’s still much to enjoy in these paintings. I happen to agree with his politics, and general prognosis of a dire future if we don’t tackle global warming and otherwise reel in the glut of corruption and waste that plague our advanced societies. But that’s not why I’m such a big fan of these paintings.
My reaction to the first painting I discovered in this series was…
I rejoiced! I didn’t focus on the doom and gloom angle at first. I saw the resurgence of the treasure of my boyhood school field trips to the natural history museum or the La Brea Tar Pits. I chuckled at the anachronism of a spinosaurus basking on a car, and loved the living crap out of the painterly style in which it was all rendered. Usually dinosaurs are rendered in tight illustrations, or with the mathematically precise computational assistance of CGI.
Kerbow had resurrected part of my childhood by mashing up 60’s-70’s dinosaurs with 60’s-70’s American cars. Now THAT is fun!
It reminds me of Eric Joyner’s paintings revolving around robots and donuts. I wasn’t surprised to discover when I did some research on the artist that his choice of style of depicting dinosaurs was deliberate, and for the same reasons it appealed to me.
On a more personal level, this series of paintings is a nostalgia of my childhood. As a five year old boy, my two main obsessions were cars and dinosaurs. These things were so cherished in my youth that it was inevitable they would find their way into my artwork. The dinosaurs I portray here may not be up to date with current paleoscience, but they epitomize the look of the illustrations I remember seeing as a boy by classic paleo-artists such as Charles R. Knight, Rudolph Zallinger, and Zdeněk Burian.Michael Kerbow
You don’t have to love pterodactyls and hate Chevron to relish the oil painting above, but it doesn’t hurt. Here we also see another of Kerbow’s motifs: the billboard sign epitomizing advertising (and in this instance in skeletal remains).
The pterodactyl in the Invasive Species above looks like a kid jumping up in the sky in exaltation. There is the triumph of the inner child, going back to before we were gradually acclimated to accepting, and settling with, the mediocrity of consumer culture and a diet that was neither equal to our potential nor nurturing. Here, nature, and our inner nature, soars above all the commercial shit that was foisted upon us and slowly but inexorably dimmed our hopes and futures.
The invasive species are not the dinosaurs in this painting, but the parasitic logos plastered on towering signs vying for our attention and dollars.
Kerbow has clearly presented his take on such signage — to instill an insatiable appetite — in other paintings:
Did we manage to escape the debilitating conditioning that prepared us for a life of disappointment, and amputated our childhood capacity for wonder? This is fighting back.
Wait a second. Am I alone in identifying with the dinosaurs here? Not everyone kept pet lizards, and had toy dinosaurs, including a large posable model T-Rex. Surely the enemy in these paintings is pollution, garbage, strip malls, cubicles, mundanity, greed, and all varieties of corruption. Are you with the double arches, or the flying dinosaurs?
This series also validates the art of painting at a time when contemporary art theory merely tolerates painting as art at all, best done in a way to undermine the presumed evil canon of Western art history. Nope, painting and visual art belongs to all of us, and here it is: fresh, vibrant, fun, witty, and rendered with hard-earned, consummate skill.
I learned to appreciate variations on a theme with Monet’s series of haystacks, cathedrals, Japanese bridges, and water lilies. Kerbow’s dinosaur series has this same kind of serial appeal. There are themes within the series revolving around different kinds of dinosaurs, such as all the paintings of spinosauruses clamoring up on cars.
And check out these brontosauruses in the making:
The sequences of paintings and the artist’s traditional handling of oil paint place the dinosaurs in the long tradition of fine art painting. The work additionally addresses the human condition, not only in relation to climate change and depleted resources, but in our fascination with dinosaurs, automobiles, and the irretrievable era of our youth.
Kerbow works on many pieces simultaneously, which is why we are seeing so many dinosaurs in preliminary stages. The painting below in progress of a pair of brachiosauruses foraging in a sunken cityscape may be my favorite. Because the artist is sharing the works in progress, we get to see how this will develop.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other features on artists:
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