Arizona artist Johnny Kerr was excited to show his work again in person after nearly two years of cancelled events due to pandemic concerns. Last December and January his photography and paintings were the centerpiece of a Phoenix gallery’s “Abstracted Realities” exhibit. Kerr’s art is also a frequent element in worship at Axiom, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Peoria, where he is part of the church’s Creative Collective.
How would you describe your art?
I’ve practiced art my whole life, focusing primarily on photography for the last decade. After exploring various genres, I found my voice as I moved toward abstraction with architecture as my subject matter. Working with elements of color, light and shape, I found the abstract to be ripe with metaphor. God spoke to me in ways I hadn’t experienced before as I engaged these works.
What did people respond to at your show?
My series “In Honor Of…” features colorful abstract photographs named after people in my beloved community. Each photograph is accompanied by a public confession honoring a relationship that has shaped me (too often this is done only in memoriam). It proved to be a healing practice of gratitude, especially during the tensions of pandemic life. Gallery guests were touched by the personal stories and often surprised to find my photographs weren’t paintings.
You have said that your art is a “vehicle for asking questions.” What does that mean?
Curiosity is important to my process, and it keeps the wonder of God alive in me. I don’t go out with a particular question in mind, but rather a big question mark, present and open to whatever God reveals.
How does the Creative Collective at Axiom function?
We use imagination and creativity to invite people to encounter Jesus. We may create visuals to accompany teachings or interactive stations to engage thematically with church seasons. I’ve been a churchgoing artist my whole life, but Axiom is the first church to nurture my creativity rather than dictate it. They celebrate creative exploration beyond typical figurative representations and icons.
What do artists have to teach us in the church?
It takes imagination to live in a kingdom that is here and yet to come. Artists are especially equipped for introspection and stewarding mystery. When we rush to certainty, we end up missing out on the chance to face uncertainty with Jesus and find the richness on the other side. But if we allow ourselves to be present with the dark areas and pain inside us, any demons we have lose their power as they are called into the light.
Kathy Heinrichs Wiest is a freelance writer who loves the smell of whole wheat bread in the oven, the feel of an orange being plucked from the tree and the view from her front porch in Kingsburg, California. On Sunday mornings you’ll find her in the fourth pew from the front on the left at Kingsburg MB Church, moved by the hymns and praise songs and inspired by the stories of God at work locally and around the world. She and her husband, Steve, own Dovetail Remodeling. They have two grown daughters, one son-in-law and a precious granddaughter.