First published: Summer 2023
Visionary artist Herbert Kearney rode deep currents, creating a metaphysical autobiography with his art and a legacy in his adopted city of New Orleans
“Have you ever seen a whale?” Herbert Kearney asks, perched on a stool in his huge, post-industrial art space in New Orleans, Louisiana. “I’ve seen a whale, a big whale, off Alaska. Seeing it, you realise we aren’t alone in the universe, big monster fins are skimming under the surface. That big eye looking back at you, it’s the biggest soul in the world. They’re beautiful creatures,” he says.
The Death of Ferdia, between 2000 and 2020, macrocarpa pine, 72 x 90 x 60 in. / 183 x 228.5 x 152.5 cm, photo: Matthew Kearney
Just sitting still, Kearney emanates a halo of manic energy. Hennaed hair twisted back in a bun, he wears a wool coat, hat, gloves – February 2005 is cold and the old hosiery mill is unheated. A sculptor, painter and poet, who spent a decade and a half travelling the world, he had arrived in New Orleans two years earlier and found a permanent spiritual home in a port city where the creative slipstream welcomes newcomers, and art lives in the streets.
left: Man Treading Water, 2015, oil on canvas, 38 x 60 in. / 96.5 x 152.5 cm
right: Chothonian Child (watercolour painting from Barbaric Haiku), 2002, 12 x 18 in. / 30.5 x 46 cm
A wild Irishman with a contagious love of life, Kearney was also a constant seeker, says Bobby Yarra, his longtime friend and patron. A former attorney who lives in California, Yarra met the artist in New York City soon after he arrived in the US:
Quan Yin: Rebirth, 2008, mixed media, 54 x 74 in. / 137 x 188 cm
“Herbie was a self-taught student of Eastern spirituality and the ancient mysticisms of The Golden Bough, and found much inspiration in the undercurrents that run deep in New Orleans,” Yarra says. “Symbol-making was part of his everyday life. He also claimed to see the energy auras of people he knew.”
By BILL SASSER
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #115.