From funk to punk
Growing up on the Texas coast in the 1970s, artist/musician Tim Kerr's early creative outlets were playing guitar and surfing. Kerr later found skateboarding, art and punk rock, eventually forming the most recognizable band in the Texas scene: the Big Boys. Kerr's fluidity in music, surfing and skateboarding all seem to inform his artwork; in every medium he immerses himself in, there's a painterly looseness and flow that is rhythmic and soulful.
This year began with a flurry of output for Kerr, starting with a collaboration deck series with Stereo Skateboards (see the lovely video by David Bessenhoffer, above). He had a show at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas, in February with fellow musician, poet and artist Daniel Higgs, titled "Cosmic Telephone Party Line" -- a celebration of and homage to visionary artists. A second show, "History Is His Story," opened Mar. 2, coinciding with Light In The Attic's re-release of the Big Boys' "Where's My Towel?" and 540 Records' re-release of the 12-inch "Fun Fun Fun." A third show, "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," featuring Kerr and Stereo's Chris Pastras, among others, opens Mar. 9 in Hollywood, Calif.
In talking to anyone about Tim Kerr, his modesty, love of community and appreciation for creativity are always mentioned. It's fitting that an artist whom many consider visionary chooses to inspire others by sharing his heroes. XGames.com talked with Kerr recently about self-expression, recognizing work from the heart and what's on the horizon for 2013.
XGames.com: The sound of the Big Boys was different than that of many of your peers in that it wasn't linear; there were different genres, from punk to funk, being incorporated. What shaped this sound?
Tim Kerr: We started at a time when punk and new wave were all the same thing -- more DIY than anything, and a certain uniform or set of rules was nonexistent. A sort of "do what you want with your self-expression" was alive and well. I can't speak for anyone else, but that and the community of it is what drew me in. It's the same way I feel about self-expression today: It should have no limits. Music, art, skating, surfing -- whatever you are doing, [it's] all self-expression and it should not have boundaries.
As a band, [we] listened to all kinds of music and skated to Ohio Players and Kool And The Gang instead of Ted Nugent, so it was a given if we started a band that that influence was going to be there. It wasn't "thought out"; it was natural. There were no rules.
Big Boys shows were always described as very energetic with a major emphasis on making it a big performance; was that a reflection of your love for art or the attitude of the band?
[Singer Randy] Biscuit [Turner] was very visual on and off the stage. I am talking art-Dada visual. You never knew what he might have on or do from show to show, and that sort of spilled over on us. It was also the idea of just having big "happenings" happen and hoping you might plant a seed into someone there that they should start a band or do some sort of self-expression.
You obviously grew up skating some legendary ditches in Texas and saw a very formative time in skateboarding. What do you think about the change in skateboarding back to concrete parks, and what do you see in kids skateboarding today?
I grew up surfing on the Gulf Coast, so skating was always surfing to me. My biggest pet peeves about parks today is that any sort of bank they have has that "pitch" at the top instead of being like a ditch. If you do a lipslide, you are going to hang. I just wish there were some areas that had that flow of a ditch where your wheels don't have to leave the ground. I'm not talking snake runs, either. The old guard know[s] exactly what I mean (smile). [Texas'] Pflugerville Park has a great ditch.
I think what is going on with skating today is pretty amazing, but sometimes I think they are missing out on just rolling and sliding and that feeling you get of flowing when you do that.
I think the best compliment I ever got on my art was someone that had no idea I played music telling me they heard music when they looked at my paintings.Tim Kerr
There are often civil-rights themes in your work; was that a product of some of the things you saw growing up that showed prejudice even in the punk scene?
I am definitely a product of my time, then and now. There are so many unsung heroes that people should know about and make the connection that they didn't do what they did to be famous; they did what they did because of a strong belief from the heart. The things that speak to me most in art, music, skating, etc., come from that heartfelt action.
In a time when the idea of "community" has changed with punk and skateboarding growing so much, do you feel connected to your local art or music scene? How important is that idea of community to you?
"Community" and "scene" are two different things to me. The older you get, I think you start realizing that there are a lot more of "them" than us, so when you find one of us, you should hug and celebrate what that person is offering. You form a sort of community of kindred souls through that.
If you and your friends cause some sort of scene to happen around what you are doing, then it will sooner [rather] than later take on a life of its own and you have no control. All you can do is stay true to yourself and values and walk your walk. If you and your friends are always walking forward, there is a good chance you will always be ahead of the curve, though that's not why you do what you do.
What were your earliest interests in the arts and when did you start painting?
I was attracted to art and music for as long as I can remember. I started playing guitar in elementary school and always did some sort of visual art. I did not really take formal classes until I went to college. They did not have guitar in the music department at that time, so I went to the art department. I started painting on big canvases then and was lucky enough to have [famed American street photographer] Garry Winogrand for the photography courses I was taking.
As soon as I graduated, the bands started up and I stopped taking photos and stopped painting on canvases. I was doing art through all the bands, but it was mostly flyers, ads, LP covers and some graffiti (mostly band names or saying something instead of big visuals). When people started asking me to show my art more in the early to mid-2000s, it was looking at [Jean-Michel] Basquiat and Twist's work that really pushed me back into the idea of painting big pieces again.
Tell us more about your collaborations with Stereo Skateboards and how you chose each subject for each rider.
The idea started the first time [Stereo co-founder] Chris [Pastras] saw my art. Russ Pope and I had a sort of crazy weekend pop-up show in L.A. Chris saw my art and said that I should do some graphics for Stereo. A couple of years went by, but it would keep coming up every so often. Last year I did a Vans-sponsored show in Portland [Ore.] and a good friend of Chris' (and now a good friend of mine), Arthur, saw my stuff and the first words out of his mouth were, "You should do some boards for Stereo!" He took the ball and ran with it, and that's how it finally came about.
I had already known about Stereo and always liked their vibe since they started. It's pretty cool to be a part of their anniversary. People keep telling me that it's a perfect match for what I do. I hope I get to do more. I originally sent them about 12 or so things and they picked from that. I am really happy with how they turned out.
You mention on your site that "I had always thought it would be really cool to do a show of Visionary artists where I do portraits, and then hanging around the portraits I have done, is that artist's work." Tell us more about the current show and the inspiration behind it.
The current show is at Webb Gallery [in Waxahachie, Texas]. They have a huge collection of visionary/outsider artist work. I got a list from them of names of artists they have and started doing research. I think in total I did 20-plus artists. Most are around four-by-three feet, but some are much bigger, on old-school pull-down maps. They will hang my portraits of the artist and then put that artist's work up around the portrait that I have done.
My friend Dan Higgs is also in the show with about 14 new pieces. I am pretty excited about it and I think it might be up for about two months.
You have another art show coming up in March; how does this differ from the Visionaries show?
This show had been sort of set a while back when we were talking about the release of the Stereo boards. [Stereo co-founders] Chris [Pastras] and Jason [Lee] and a lot of their crew do art and I thought it would be cool to do an art show when they came out. I was going to do an art show anyway in L.A. around that time and it just made sense to tie it together. Then it ended up that the Big Boys Light In The Attic release would be around the same time, so let's just turn it into a big celebration of self-expression!
My friend Rich Jacobs always has a wall of his friends' art when he does a show, so I have always tried to do the same to promote the community of this ... we just started asking and the list sort of grew (smile). As far as my art, this show will be more varied as far as subject matter, which is what I normally do. The difference is the record releases.
Punk and hardcore, skateboarding and art have always had a symbiotic relationship; why do you think it took 30 years for the artwork from these worlds to be respected outside these circles?
I don't think about that (smile). I think you cross the line into vain if you are looking for respect. All you can do is be responsible for your actions and hope to be some sort of positive influence. If one person picks up on what you are doing, it is an honor not to take lightly.
In the big picture, most people did not know any of those worlds existed till well into the '90s (smile). Depending on how you look at it, for better or for worse, Nirvana broke the dam for punk and hardcore, Tony Hawk and X Games for skating, and graffiti and the whole crew of folks that took the DIY attitude to the art world are doing it for art.
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Can you give us all the details on the upcoming Big Boys re-releases?
Light In The Attic will be reissuing "Where's My Towel?/Industry Standard." It was done right after "Live At Raul's," which was a split LP -- us on one side and a really amazing band called The Dicks on the other. The guy that put it out did not really let us have much input, even though he said he would. When we would question something, he would say "Oh, that's just industry standard." Our friend David Bean knew we were not happy and said he wanted us to come record on his label (he was in a great band called The Judy's); that's how this record came about.
[Ed.'s note: Click here for a Light In The Attic mini-doc about the reissue, featuring some incredible archival footage and photos.)
What is on the horizon for Tim Kerr in 2013?
There is an art show Mar. 9 at my friend Libby's shop, Ranch-n-Roll, in Hollywood, Calif., with me, Chris [Pastras] and some of the Stereo crew and a bunch of our friends. It will coincide with Light In The Attic reissuing the Big Boys record "Where's My Towel?". They will be having giveaways at that show, including Conspiracy doing a Big Boys board. Most likely there will be an old-time session going on there as well (smile).
Monofonus will be putting out "Up Around The Sun," which is me and my friend Jerry [Hagins] playing acoustic guitar and banjo. My friend Rich Jacobs and I have done some music together as well, and hopefully that might come out at some point.
A friend is reissuing "Fun Fun Fun" on vinyl and there is a Big Boys tribute record that another friend is doing in Canada.
I am painting a bike for Jim Kish (Kish Fabrications) for a bike show, recording more Lee Bains music and helping out my friends at an amazing non-profit assisting kids that want to be creative, called [Project] L.O.O.P.
More art shows and more Stereo boards? Chris? (smile)