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Gallery Space: Cowtown Culture

The urban mosaics of muralist Andrew Kern

By Mark J. Lucas

Published September 1, 2011
Photos by Chris Casella & Ben Yoder

On a recent hot-as-hell Wednesday, I went out to meet Andrew Kern at his Cowtown Culture mural on the racquetball court wall in Tuttle Park. Painting outside in such heat, over asphalt no less, is a far cry from the art scene in temperature controlled galleries with plates of wine and cheese. The back of a small silver car parked nearby is filled up past the windows with cans of paint and a ladder.

I thought to myself, ‘This has got to be his vehicle.’

As I turned the corner, I saw what at first glance looked like a hipster art student, with thick black glasses and parted hair. The second he opened his mouth, however, I realized I was completely mistaken. Kern hasn’t been to art school at all; he graduated high school with a “good enough for done” degree in his hometown of Clintonville. We share an indigenous Columbus accent – a mélange of country drawl and surfer. Kern’s mural at Tuttle Park is his celebration of Columbus’ duality.

“It’s my sense of humor about how parts of Columbus might hold themselves in a higher esteem than they should, or try to emulate West Coast or East Coast culture, and that we should probably do a better job of embracing who we really are,” explained Kern. “At the same time, it’s about countering it against the misconceptions of people from out of town who think we’re just a bunch of country bumpkins.”

Depicted in the mural are those the artist personally feels are some of Columbus’ “best assets,” including musician Tony “Envelope” Collinger, decked out in highly stylized forms, set against a background of fields of grazing cows. In addition to this massive undertaking, Kern has done lettering for store fronts all around town, including the mural at the Blue Danube. The work is arduous, as far as painting goes, but it suits his strengths.

“I’ve never been somebody who’s really drawn to fine art spaces,” said Kern. “I really like being out in the open. If you’re built for it, it’s definitely one of the best ways you can get yourself out there and market yourself without having to do too much work beatin’ the street with your feet.”

A lot of artists would be deterred by the idea of leaving their work outside to potentially be vandalized by Mother Nature or the general public, but Kern has no concern for either of those scenarios.

“As far as weather goes, the paint dries relatively quickly,” he said. “Knock on wood – no murals have been claimed by the weather. There’s always a possibility that someone could tag it, and that really would be a shame, but I would say in my experience that graffiti writers and taggers do respect good public art. Even with [gangs], as long as you’re doing something positive for the area, and you’re not acting too cool for school, I think you’re generally pretty respected.”