Michael Kerbow is a San Francisco-based artist who works in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, assemblage, and digitally manipulated photography. Kerbow received an MFA from Pratt Institute in New York. His creations explore issues such as hyper-consumerism, climate change, and other ecological threats that derive from our modern industrialized society. He is interested in how these phenomena impact our surroundings and affect the future viability of our planet. The artist seeks to question the rationale of our collective pursuits and attempts to reveal the dichotomy that can exist between what we desire and what we, in turn, manifest. Kerbow creates allegories about the world today and invites us to ponder the scenarios that possibly await us tomorrow. Not only are his paintings thought-provoking, the artist’s luscious use of color and intricate detail lures the eye, enticing the viewer to contemplate the environmental themes contained in his work.
Michael Kerbow has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has appeared in multiple publications. He has also been twice nominated for SFMOMA’s prestigious SECA award. Kerbow’s work has been exhibited in institutions such as Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, LA, Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA, Dennos Museum, Traverse City, MI, Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame, CA, David Brower Center, Berkeley, Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT
My first painting studio was located in a building adjacent to a federal Superfund site.
The area had once been used as a landfill by the U.S. Navy. But by the time I saw it, this landscape had become a flat expanse of tall grass, surrounded by a razor wire fence. Scattered across this enormous field were mysterious white pipes, protruding from the ground. I assumed these were meant to ventilate whatever lay entombed below. The area felt ominous – like a graveyard. I used to wonder what was buried there, and whether I risked my health being in proximity to such a toxic place. Thinking about these concerns eventually led me to contemplate our broader impact upon the world. I was already acutely aware of our society’s appetite for rampant consumption from my prior employment as a retoucher for print advertising. But this highly toxic landfill was clear evidence of how a lack of foresight could result in significant environmental damage.
For over twenty years I have created artwork that examines the underlying forces that drive our industrialized society. I am intrigued by what motivates our collective pursuits, and how our actions may affect our future viability. I seek to question the rationale behind our choices and try to reveal the dichotomy that may exist between what we desire, and what we in turn manifest. My paintings are intended as allegories about our world, and visions of our possible future. I attempt to distill what I see happening today, to hopefully allow others a means to understand what could await us tomorrow.
Shortly before the pandemic, I began working on a new series of allegorical paintings that I have entitled “Late Capitalism”. This ongoing body of work portrays the return of dinosaurs as they overrun our world. These images signify our existential threat from climate change. The functioning of our society has inadvertently liberated destructive forces upon the earth. These dinosaurs are the specters of inevitable extinction. The cars and freeways symbolize our legacy of fossil fuel addiction. The various billboards and signage allude to the siren song of capitalism, and represent a culture myopically focused on hyper-commodification and consumption.
On a more personal level, this series of works are a form of nostalgia from my childhood. As a five year old, my two primary obsessions were cars and dinosaurs. These things were so cherished in my youth that it is not surprising they found their way into my artwork as an adult. However, it is worth noting that my depiction of dinosaurs is not based upon current paleoscience. Rather, I have tried to epitomize the classic illustrations of dinosaurs I remember seeing as a kid. The work of paleo-artists like Charles R. Knight, Rudolph Zallinger, and Zdeněk Burian, from the first half of the 20th century, helped foster my young imagination. Therefore, this is my way of paying homage to them.