Last Friday (March 20th) I bussed my way through the falling snow to a small boutique on Halsey Street in the downtown region of New Jersey’s biggest city, Newark. The Artisan Collective, as it is known, is currently the hosting space for the artwork of local artist Kern Bruce. I was lucky enough to witness what was his first art show since he was a sophomore in high school 15 years ago.
When I first descended into the boutique, which is at the lower level of the building it is in, I was hit immediately by the smell of burning incense and the funky soulful sounds of the voice of Erykah Badu crooning through the speakers. Greeted by the friendly shop owner and Kern himself, I knew exactly what I was in for.
The display, which was in honor of Women’s History Month, could not have taken place anywhere else. I felt as though I was being hugged by feminine and creative energy; the atmosphere of the boutique coupled with the inspiration and energy behind the paintings created a spectacular vibration, one that resonated with me and kept me warm through the rest of the day.
Conversations with Kern during the show just made me appreciate even more the intricate minds of artists. From him drawing inspiration and sketching the face of a random woman on the train, simply because he found her to be beautiful, to him working up the courage to finally display his work for the public, the process that goes behind a painting is often times as beautiful as the product itself. “I’m me,” he says, “I’m short. Talented. Thoughtful. Weird. Odd. But I like it no other way. What’s the point in pretending? So draining…. Being myself got me an art show. Being me got me to give in a way I’ve never given before. That’s the point right? Control the controllables and affect change when it presents itself.”
The painting that started the collection, before and after: inspired by the force of Kern’s muse, Ashanti.
In a conversation with me during the show, Kern called this collection the Section .80 of his career and promised a To Pimp a Butterfly reminiscent collection in the future. This statement holds its own weight for anyone familiar with the bodies of music he was referring to and goes to prove that the artwork goes beyond the physical paintings.
This truth, however, could never take away from the amazement of seeing each physical painting. I could hardly begin to describe the multitude of depth and emotion behind each one, which will remain on display for the rest of the month.
“I want to give myself to the world,” says Kern, in after light and in reflection of his show. He confesses to me that all that he put into the show was worth it, because no matter how much time, effort, or money spent he saw a chance to “change how some people looked at themselves,” and created an opportunity for “little girls to meet strong sisters, who were unapologetically all black, and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
“Every day I do one small thing towards my goal. Our personal best changes day to day. I’ve accepted that. My best today isn’t my best tomorrow. And that’s ok. Point is I’m moving my goals forward however small.”
With profound words to keep me thinking long after the vibrational energy from the Artisan Collective faded away, I am pleased to have gotten the chance to chat with a modern artistic genius and witness the early stages of his career unfold. Keep scrolling to see more from this collection of work, and stay tuned for any updates.
All Photographs credits to Felipe Rodriguez.