Magazine

Tim Kerr: The Writing on the Wall

December 21, 2015

Tim Kerr is known for playing in the seminal skate punk band, the Big Boys, and all that followed, but he has also been an artist from the get go. His work is linked to justice and knowledge—art with meaning and purpose. He is one of my favorite guys to sit down and shoot the shit with: a blend of positivity, stream of consciousness in a Texas drawl and an upbeat and unfettered enthusiasm for the now. He recently had a solo show at the Rosa Parks Museum.

Chris Lundry: I want to talk about where you started.
Tim Kerr: Music or art? It’s all connected. I’ve been making art since before I was in kindergarten. I’ve always been drawing. I remember pro skater Steve Olson had a show in Shreveport where a bunch of us were sitting on a panel, and I was asked what was my inspiration, and I said, “Crayons.” I started playing music in elementary school, and the first stuff that I really remember was through my brothers, who were eight and ten years older. The older one listened to soul music. Of course, being close to Houston, it was Archie Bell and the Drells. And my other brother listened to country. At the time, I didn’t really like country, but now I do like some of that older stuff. Then came the Beatles. And I’m old enough that I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I was probably five years old, and everybody wanted to play guitar after that. For maybe a month, I took lessons where they were trying to teach you “Down in the Valley” and stuff like that. I didn’t want to play that. So, I started playing by ear, picking up Beatles songs and stuff I heard on the radio, and making up songs. I tended to gravitate toward all the old British folk stuff, and early country-blues, so I started with that, and then I learned how to finger pick in junior high, which was when I got obsessed with acoustic. That’s what I played all through high school. I was the weird kid in school. Everyone thought I was on drugs or gay, just the weirdest dude ever.

So you later went to school for art?
I went to college for art. I always did art in junior high and high school, doing posters for people.

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For their bands?
This was posters of album covers, way before punk. In the early 1970s, bands were totally inaccessible, not like the punk days. They were way up on stage, with a barrier so you couldn’t get up close; it was unobtainable until punk rock happened. I hate to say it like that, “punk rock,” because it was really DIY. And DIY is basically the same thing that started beatniks, started hippies, started Dada, started any of these movements that people are talking about. It starts with DIY. It starts with somebody not liking the choices presented and deciding, “I’m going to do something over here, and if you wanna come, cool.” All of a sudden, here comes a name for it, there’s a uniform, there’s a set of rules, all this stuff... that’s ridiculous. I say this all the time: there are no rules for self-expression.

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You have developed an interest in civil rights figures and people working for justice and athletes, including those who didn’t get their due. Tell me what drew you to that as a subject matter.
I’ve always been interested in tribes, and I’ve always been interested in the underdog. When the Big Boys started, I kinda quit painting big, and I quit doing all of the stuff I did in art school. We were still doing record covers and posters, though posters back then weren’t necessarily about bands. My favorite poster of all was by a guy named Control Rat, who had a map of all of the sorority and fraternity houses, and the only thing it said was, “Know your enemy.”

About ten years ago, people started asking me to show art again. Being in so many bands and having people come up to me, I was honored and humbled, but I realized the influence thing and thought that if I am going to start showing art again, I want to show people who influenced me. I can only hope the viewer might go turn around and do something themselves—maybe realize somebody like Rosa Parks or Jim Thorpe didn’t do what they did to be famous, they did it because it was coming straight from the heart. I felt this same way with the bands: “Go start your own band.” Like, hopefully you might see this, turn around and go do something cool yourself. That’s the best possible compliment that could ever happen, that you’ve caused someone else to start to realize their own self-expression. It started out with people that meant something to me: Lou Gehrig, Jim Thorpe, Curtis Mayfield, John Coltrane, just all kinds of different folks and civil rights icons, like Rosa Parks and people like her. As I did them, I started to read more into it and realized how stuff was connected. John Coltrane wrote “Alabama” about the four little girls who were killed in the church when it got bombed in Birmingham. The thread runs through all of this.

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You mentioned that you were surprised that nobody had graffitied over your Claudette Colvin mural in NY, but you also said that you would have expected and welcomed that.
I like stuff changing. I like things being organic, so it’s like a discussion. I like that people add more sentences or add more to the story. It’s the whole idea of the community of it. The biggest argument I have about a lot of the art stuff is that nobody shares information or opportunities, everybody’s holding their cards so close to their chest. Because you’re not sharing, you’re going to lose out on the community that you have. When punk rock started, especially hardcore, Black Flag and DOA went all over this country and basically played every little podunk town, in people’s houses, wherever, and gave out the info. So, if you wanted to go on tour, and you wanted to go up to Seattle, they had the route. It became a community, and look what happened just because of that. None of us were doing it for this to happen. We were all doing it from the heart.

How come we can’t do that with art? How come we can’t just tour? You with your photos, and me with my paintings, we could say, “We’re going to on tour just like a band.” And, basically instead of playing music, we just set up our art. People have done that, people like Pat Graham and Cynthia Connolly.

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Read the rest of the interview in the January, 2016 issue of Juxtapoz, on sale now.

All photography by Sandy Carson.