Hip-hop, women, garbage dumps, birds and South America. The world is Cern's playground, and the 5 boroughs are his stomping grounds.
"My studio is by the oil looking building". I arrive at the corner he told me to come too, wrapped in gloves, scarves and a heavy winter jacket. I receive another message, "I can come pick you up at the subway." I'm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is dark, January, and I am looking at Manhattan across the water.
I call, "Hey, I'm at the corner but I have no idea what an oil looking building looks like." We go back and forth, I move a few steps to a brightly lit truck depot and he agrees to come meet me. There's a slight flurry of anticipation as I look around at the warehouses, abandoned buildings and massive 18-wheelers around me. "Where the fuck am I and what have I gotten myself into?" just may have crossed my mind.
Cern (YMI), with his billowy curly hair and wide smile shows up on the street to fetch me and we head in to the "oil" looking building, which he explains use to be an oil company's headquarters until they vacated. The building has been turned into for-lease studio and recording spaces. It provides an environment filled with creativity. Musicians dropping beats, and artists painting whatever they can get their hands on.
Tropical Disco 2010
Cern's studio is a cozy space, welcoming immediately. It's covered with cans stacked high, canvases and all other tools of the trade. A record is playing. There's a recording mic too. Music is a huge part of Cern's process; he often takes those beats from friends and his studio neighbors, and supplies the vocals. It's not like Jean-Michel Basquiat's foray into playing the clarinet, Cern actually knows what he's doing. And he'll tell you, he simultaneously pursues both graffiti and hip hop equally.
Hip hop and music provide a back beat for what Cern has gained acclaim: His soulful collection of birds and females done with the technical skill of a seasoned professional. His approach to music mirrors his approach to art, and he says the two flow together. Art takes him places where he often gets to perform.
Cern has built a reputation in New York, around the US, and in Latin America. From his friendship with Chilean artist ACB, he started traveling south, first to Chile in 2005. ACB took Cern to Chile, Brasil and Argentina, and then he returned with Cekis in 2006. He spent time in Buenos Aires with artist Jaz, and his work there even made it into a few books on the local scene. Ultimately, he would like to split his years between his home in NY and warm weather of South America. Nice life, yes?
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Florianapolis, Brasil 2009
As we talk, we cannot help but note the weather and the contrast with the Southern Hemisphere given the onslaught of snow in the Northeast States. What do you do in the winter when you cannot be outside? Cern catches up with his canvas work, experiments with new art techniques (guache and watercolors)
This is a pretty busy artist, active all year round in collaborative exhibitions around the country. Cern participated in Billi Kid and James & Karla Murray's Art of Basketball exhibition, previously working with Billi Kid on the Eames chair project. He's also a Gawker Artist, and, with them in the past, participated in the Mom & Popism Show. Currently, you can view his work on Glass Chord and Dirty Pilot.
Cern's Art of Basketball backboard was one of the harder projects he's tackled lately, but most exemplary of the spirit and soul that is pervasive in a lot of his work. He nailed it in personality after meeting a woman who's roots were in 80's hip hop. They started talking about basketball and how it was spiritual for her; it was a healing activity and physical therapy. He used this woman as inspiration for his backboard piece.
As an artist, he says his "art is either on fire or a struggle" and with this project, it was a struggle. Engaging with painting is usually enough, he does not always need a story, but it certainly helped in this case to identify with someone that had strong feelings for the sport.
Cern paints a lot of females that come as stark contrast to the over-sexed women that show up in graffiti. He realized that many people draw women, but he did not want to stop himself just because it was popular. Instead he started to experiment with feminity. He wanted to abstract away what is deemed conventionally sexy like the breasts, butt, hips and curves. As a result, his women are sensual, captivating, and, still, very sexual. Without the tits and ass.
Tribute to ACB 2007
His good friend ACB, who passed away in 2006, gave Cern some incentive to transition from wildstyles to softer paintings. His birds, which you can see in his canvases, pieces and as throwies, were his homage. He explains that birds make up a significant part of the soundtrack to our lives. They're always there humming in the background, and sometimes we do not take note.
Using animals, not just birds, is also a way to passively address and express social issues and boundary-pushing topics. If he draws a painting of a purple bird kissing a green bird, it is a more subversive way of addressing inter-racial relationships than a white man kissing a chinese woman.
From revok1.com, Cern in Miami 2010
Queens 2010 - Welling Court Mural Project
After a while of talking, I get the impression that this is a person I could spend hours discussing theory, politics, social issues and theology. It's not heavy though, he's funny and a little goofy. This makes him interesting, personable and complex. Peeling away the layers is fun and exciting, not boring, or, worse, disappointingly bland. His color choice is clear - brighten what's dark, awaken from melancholy.
Who wouldn't want to hang out with a guy that counts Garbage Graffiti as one of his projects?