Mike Kershnar

Mike Kershnar

American Beauty — San Franciscan artist brings his neon-lit wildlife to European walls.

When Mike Kershnar rolled into HUCK’s gallery, 71a, at the beginning of March, our headphones-and-Macs working space was turned upside down with Himalayan incense, spray-painted foxes, vintage Americana and The Smiths on repeat.

Growing up as a skater and graffiti writer, Kershnar is no stranger to re-appropriating space and he made every stop on his month-long European tour with Element a unique dip into his rag-n-bone, skate-folk world.

What was the thought process behind the shows on this European tour?
I wanted to create a unique experience for the viewer involving all the senses. It was to represent ‘American Beauty’ or our lifestyle in America based on love of travel, skateboarding, spirituality, music and positive vibrations. The idea was to be immediately impressed by the large scale of the North American wildlife and then be drawn in to look closer at photos and collage on the street signs. […] The pieces on the installation are bits of different people and spiritual traditions I have encountered on my journey. There are bells from Nepal, Native American arrowheads of bone and stone, Jewish family mementos, Russian Orthodox saints, cigar-boxes adorned with photographs, gifts from friends and mentors, as well as elements of classic ritual magic such as keys, inscribed mirrors and watches, and red thread.

Each show has been sort of ‘destined to be destroyed’. Is there a parallel to skateboarding in that way?
I like the impermanent nature of these shows. Whenever I come to Europe I am impressed by the artistry and opulence of the church art. The outside of the cathedrals, the floors, the ceilings, the candles all adorned to last for an eternity. I like to take inspiration from the these grand basilicas and try to create a similar experience for just one night. Like a one-night, non-dogmatic, all-inclusive take on the Sacre Coeur. It’s not about religion, but about spirit. It’s not about someone else’s story, but about our story. I think it is similar to skateboarding in the way of the passion it can sometimes take to film a line. Some people might not understand why a person would take all these slams and try over and over to land a ten-second line. But the skater believes in the result of filming that line for a video part which will represent them to their peers. I feel that way about my shows, like an art show can be a few sterile framed paintings on a wall, or it can be a full-on mystical barrage of the senses. There are infinite ways of performing art, skateboarding, or the human experience.

Can you tell us a bit about your collab shoe with Element?
The Topaz shoe for Element was about exploring duality – man/woman, canine/feline, day/night, creation/destruction – that is why the left and right shoes are different with different totem animals. The leather is bison, and the copper rivets nod at classic Native-American aesthetics. It was really fun to work with them to design a shoe, box, bandana and short film that weave a tale of a positive awakened state of being.