Norwich-born artist and former Norwich School pupil Kerwin Blackburn will be exhibiting his vibrant music-inspired Pop Art paintings in Norwich School’s Crypt Gallery (situated next to Norwich Cathedral) for two weeks between 21st November – 4th December. This exhibition, titled "Pop! Goes The Easel", will be Kerwin’s largest display of his paintings since exhibiting in New York in 2022.
See Kerwin’s stunning paintings of the world’s favourite music icons – created in his signature Jackson Pollock-inspired ‘action painting’ style – and meet the artist himself during his latest solo exhibition of his brand ‘By Kerwin’, as he exhibits at the historic setting of the Crypt Gallery for the second time.
In this interview, we ask Kerwin Blackburn, ON about his works and his upcoming exhibition.
When did your passion for art begin?
I remember really enjoying and having some natural passion and flair for art – and painting in particular – way back in my nursery days, when I must have been aged two or three. I enjoyed different types of art throughout my school years; I was a regular at ceramics club in the Lower School for four years, and enjoyed developing my painting and drawing abilities as I progressed through Senior School.
I also really took to 2D Design with Mr Passam from the fifth form onwards – I even chose to study this at GCSE and A Level instead of art as I saw it as the more practical option.
I never once thought of pursing art professionally beyond school; I graduated in BSc International Business, Finance & Economics from Manchester Business School before gaining a Master’s degree from King’s College London and gaining other commercial experience.
In early 2019 I began painting for the first time in a while as a hobby, experimenting with my new Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art style, while I was working at an e-commerce startup in Singapore. It turned out that the commercial and e-commerce skillset I had developed enabled me to launch my small By Kerwin online shop in late 2019, which I have been growing ever since.
So, in your words, what is “Pop! Goes the Easel”?
Pop! Goes The Easel will be an exciting display of my large and vibrant collection of pop art music icon paintings, prints and merchandise – it will allow visitors to step inside the world of ‘By Kerwin’ and re-imagine their favourite music icons as they’ve never seen before. It will also offer visitors a chance to their hands on some colourful and uplifting art and unique Christmas gifts too!
The exhibition title (an idea I’m still really pleased with!) is also a reference to the first ever work of Pop Art in 1947 by Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, which was a collage featuring the onomatopoeic use of the word “Pop!”, which helped give this genre of art its name.
What were the biggest inspirations for this exhibition?/ What inspires you?
My ‘action’ painting technique is inspired by Jackson Pollock, who I discovered through The Stone Roses’ album cover while a student in Manchester. The pop art element of my portraits is inspired by the styles of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Beyond the obvious artistic side of being an artist, I’m also inspired and energised by the process of building a high-quality brand around my artwork to last. I’m fortunate that I enjoy the commercial side of my art venture as well as the creative.
What do you want people to take away from your exhibition?
I want people to come in and see art like they’ve never seen before and say ‘Wow’. I want people to feel uplifted or inspired by the energy, colour and creativity in the room. I’d also like people to take some artwork or merchandise away with them ideally too!
How will this exhibition compare to your previous exhibition in 2022?
It’s been a bit of a challenge to think how I can make this different to, and better than, my Spring 2022 exhibition in some way.
I have a lot of new portrait paintings that have never been exhibited to the public before, along with new merchandise and a few other surprises – including a Limited Edition range of striking hand-painted vinyl records that I’m really excited to display. Any regulars at Carrow Road will not want to miss the chance to grab one of these unique yellow and green creations!
Another really cool dimension for this show is to have had a custom-made ‘By Kerwin Art’ DJ disco mix produced especially for it by my DJ cousin Danny Blackburn – featuring mixes of songs by the music icons I have painted in my collection! Make sure to give this a listen!
Do you have a favourite piece in this exhibition? Why?
My two most recent paintings are Debbie Harry and Elvis – these are both large pieces with lots of details that tell a pop art story. I’m looking forward to exhibiting these for the first time ever. My Jimi Hendrix painting is always a hit too.
More importantly, I enjoy hearing which are the favourites among my visitors – it’s always interesting to learn what draws people to certain paintings of mine, as well as the unique connections that visitors have to the icons I have captured.
As I mentioned above, I’m really pleased with how my latest series of handpainted vinyl records has turned out too!
What has been your proudest achievement(s) so far?
Exhibiting internationally in New York in summer 2022 was a big milestone – when I was younger my dream was to have an international business making and selling things. My two previous large Norwich exhibitions, in 2020 and 2022, were also really successful events. I’m also really pleased to have sold my artwork into hundreds of homes across the UK and around the world since launching four years ago – and to have continually improved my operation during that time.
Over the last year I’ve also made a lot of progress with my online blog, ‘Confessions Of A Pop Artist’, and have been pleased to see my organic Google search hits increase by the week (I’m also now one of the highest ranking ‘Kerwins’ on Google!). Explore my blog at bykerwin.com/blog.
I’m also pleased to see my intrinsic painting abilities improving over time – which allows me to take on ever more ambitious compositions and creative ideas.
What is it like coming back to your old school for your second exhibition?
I’m really looking forward to exhibiting in the amazing Crypt Gallery space again, and to welcome school groups and my former teachers to see my art. Exhibiting in Norwich always produces that extra unique personal connection to my art and journey – one thing that has surprised me about the art world is learning just how much people want to engage with the story of the artist, and not just the artworks themselves.
I’m really looking forward to welcoming visitors throughout the two weeks. I’m also hosting a Private View evening to open the show on Wednesday 22nd November 5-7.30pm which has been kindly sponsored by Adnams again. Please do come along for a glass of fizz if you are in The Close at that time!
What would you say to any aspiring artists?
Understand your motivation for pursuing your art; is your objective commercial, to promote a message, or to get as much enjoyment for yourself from pursuing your passion?
If looking to pursue your art practice professionally, develop a USP – something unique about what you do in order to build your niche within the art world. Then identify the most effective business model, products and marketing channels to commercialise your art, which resonate with your skillset and unique personality.
Make sure the art you’re creating is of the highest possible quality, and hold yourself to high standards in the other components around this, such as with your marketing and customer service. Be patient and fall in love with the process of what you’re creating or building. And although the creative ideas may be all yours – your best commercial feedback is always from your prospective customers and the public.
What is next for you?
I don’t yet have any exhibition plans for 2024 – I usually take my shows one at a time and learn from the feedback before planning my next move. Alongside any in-person exhibitions, I’ll continue to devote a lot of time to building my blog and growing my online presence. I’m always eager to hear suggestions for who to paint next too!
The exhibition, ‘Pop! Goes The Easel’ is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Saturday, with free entry. Read more about Kerwin’s exhibition on his website: https://www.bykerwin.com/new-solo-art-exhibition-pop-goes-the-easel-norwich-nov-23/
Explore Kerwin's full range of paintings, prints, merchandise, clothing, painting videos, interviews, and blog at www.bykerwin.com.