Art rooted in tranquillity. The landscapes give loneliness space to unfurl; the buildings are hermetic even when threatened by destruction and dereliction; the rooms exude stillness. People pause in reflection, sometimes just for a moment, often lost in their thoughts and feelings.
Art rooted in tranquillity, which has grown out of a tumultuous life. Kevin Kearney grew up in Baltimore, learnt to hold his own in a world of racial conflicts and adolescent gangs, learnt not to find any kind of work beneath him; he got into a mess and disentangled himself from it; he renovated houses, became a designer and builder of houses, and a legal expert in the construction industry, at one time owning a firm with a hundred employees, at other times just with one secretary; he rode on the crest of the boom and was battered by the recession; designed and built a home for himself, his wife and his son, a work of art with seven gables; collected art, produced plays and wrote books.
But painting was the most important thing in his life. Painting, his childhood passion, became his vocation as an adult. After high school, Kevin Kearney attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of California at Davis, completed his studies in 1977 with a Master of Fine Arts, and stayed in San Francisco. His paintings figured in solo and group shows even during his student days; in the 1980s and 1990s, when painting took first place in Kevin Kearney’s life, pushing everything else into the background, further exhibitions followed, above all in California but on the East Coast too. Then came a caesura; after a badly organised show with poor reviews, and out of a desire to once again try out a new, different life, shared with his new love, Kevin Kearney moved away from painting, became a building contractor, married. Yet how long can someone who is destined to paint turn his back on painting?
And so Kevin Kearney did return to painting. Now grappling with the construction industry’s fluctuating fortunes, and with a wife and family, he must carve out time to paint in the face of life’s exigencies and adversities. Sometimes he finds a few weeks for his art, sometimes it is just days. When he paints, he makes his way, with extreme concentration, out of the tumult of his life and into the tranquillity of painting and the image on the canvas. It is as if there were two different people: one restless, impatient, acting swiftly, deciding swiftly, impulsive; the other calm, cautious, pondering each step, engaging patiently with each detail.
Yet the restless energy that pervades his life never simply vanished when he was painting, and still does not—how could it?— and it is the juxtaposition and contraposition of life’s turmoil and artistic concentration that underpin the compelling tension in Kevin Kearney’s paintings. A tension shaped by the interactions and confrontations between interior and exterior light, between natural and industrial landscapes, land and water, stability and menace; often it is the tense suspense of a narrative that glimmers like a secret, a puzzle, a fragment, like a catastrophe barely averted or looming on the horizon.
I have known Kevin Kearney since 1980. We have talked a lot, but we have also been through a lot together. Sometimes we have worked side by side, he on a painting, I on a book, and I was intensely aware of his creativity, concentration and patience. I have four of his paintings in my flat — no, I do not have them: I live with them, with their stories, secrets, threats—and with their beauty.