Australian artist Jordy Kerwick, 39, is one of the fastest rising stars in the contemporary art market. Having sold his first painting on Instagram back in 2015-2016 for £100 each, his work can now command over £200,00 at auction. Like most of his gallery exhibitions, his latest, in the English Heritage setting of Wellington Arch, the Grace I-listed monument on Hyde Park Corner built to celebrate the Duke of Wellingtons victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, sold out before it opened It closes on May 29.
Kerwicks story began when he gave up his normal workaday life in Melbourne, realising he was “the world’s worst businessman”, and took up painting “to cope with stress”. Using cheap Chinese canvasses and his kitchen as a studio where he worked to the strains of Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, he threw 90 percent of his early paintings away and have the rest to friends.
Entirely self-taught, Kerwick then developed a distinctive, simple yet seductive style of painting. Inspired by “the bold colours and simplicity” of Matisse, and the fantastical elements of children’s storybooks populated by exotic animals (he and his wife have two young children), his first sales, he says, were to interior designers.
Now he counts numerous influential collectors among his buyers. Among them are the billionaire hedge funder, Steven A Cohen (who famously bought Damien Hirst’s shark in a formaldehyde-filled tank for the Museum of Modern Art in New York), French luxury goods kingpin, Bernard Arnault, Yusaku Maezawa (the Japanese online retailer who paid a record $110.5 million for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 2017) and Korean rap star, T.O.P. High flying artists who have supported him are the Americans Marc Grotjahn and Richard Prince.
Kerwicks first break came in 2017 when he was given a show by the Anna Zorina Gallery in New York, and in 2018, he became a full-time artist. His rise, though, is most visible in the auction rooms. In the last six months, after Richard Prince went public on Instagram that Kerwick was top of his list for works to acquire, 17 of his paintings have powered through auctions in London, New York and Seoul peaking this March at Sothebys New York when a 2020 painting of a double-headed tiger estimated at $25,000 sold for $227,200 (£218,000). That month in London, more than 40 people from all corners of the globe registered to bid on a still life of a potted plant – one of the highest figures on record – and the tempo shows no signs of abating. Last week, five of his paintings were sold across three locations in one day – all surpassing estimates from factors of 3 to 8.
Prices in the galleries, however, remain relatively subdued. “Auction prices are about four times what we sell them for” said Toby Clarke, of London’s Vigo Gallery who set up a current show in Wellington Arch. Here, the paintings, which form a playful reference to a fictitious meeting between Wellington and Napoleon dressed as mythical beasts, double headed wolves, and snakes, were priced from $14,000 for small for small works up to $75,000. The sell-out was no unexpected “We have hundreds if not thousands of people who want to buy something by Jordy”, says Clarke.
When asked about the Wellington Arch location, Kerwick came up with an unexpected reference. Yves Klein, the mischievous 20th-century French artist who once staged an exhibition in a completely empty gallery and proposed bathing the Place de la Concorde in his trademark “Yves Klein Blue” light as a work of art, was one of his heroes, he said. Like Klein, and like Wellington, the military tactician, Kerwick has added an element of surprise in his choice of location.
Kenwick’s next show will be with Vito Schnabel, the dealer son of artist Julian Schnabel, in Los Angeles, whilst the Frieze Art Fair in London is planning to place one of his sculptures, carved from Portland stone, in its Regents Park sculpture exhibition in September.
Clarke, meanwhile, has further plans for Wellington Arch. One is for Sudanese artist, Ibrahim El-Salahi, a star of the current Venice Biennale who will show works made in preparation for his exhibition at Tate Modern in 2013, and another for Marcus Harvey, who achieved notoriety with his portrait of Moors murderer, Myra Hindley, painted using children’s handprints in the Saatchi collections Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy. Once again, there will be a surprise in store for English Heritage tourists.