On The Verge: Capturing Nature Through Contemporary Art With Mya Kerner

Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Mya Kerner completed her BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture and Environmental Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD in 2011. Since then, Mya has worked as an artist in residence nationally at Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in Solsberry, Indiana and Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, and internationally as a visiting artist at Akademia Sztuk Pięknych in Gdańsk, Poland. She has shown her work in England, Canada, Poland, Latvia, and, here, in the United States. In 2016, Mya completed a Certificate in Holistic Landscape Design at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Working out of her Seattle studio, Mya continues her art practice full time, partnering with designers across North America. 


I think about the individual in the context of the mountains and their immense scale. As we have continued our supposed domination over Nature, regarding Nature as resource rather than Source, we have forgotten these concepts are constructs, built in recent history through the deconstruction of mythology. 

My studies in permaculture influence my art practice, expanding my perception. I regard the mountains as stoic icons reflected by mortality, records of the movements of the earth and the torrents of the sky. They represent a collision or maybe a collaboration of the elements and the forces of life. Though continuously rising or falling, the mountains stand, silent, weighing on the shifting fragments of the earth, moving at an incomprehensible rate. 

I depict geological disruptions, carved moments and parts within the landscape. Records of denudation captivate me, as these notes present a segmented image of the whole. The mountaintops stand crisp against a stark white, for the peak is both the destination and the departure - reaching for an infinite sky. Descending are scratched lines, which break through the slopes, while flecks of white dapple on eroded surfaces, recalling cooler seasons. Light moves across planes, marking time with stretched and shortened shadows. 

Recording these moments by drawing and writing, I return to the studio to paint in attempt to capture this vulnerability, leaving the rest in the haze. Often, my finished pieces linger on the threshold of completion, for what memory is complete upon its conception? Form denotes the flow of water through rocky slopes, and the image often disintegrates as it nears the base of the painting, referencing the deposition of mountain and mythos. 

Often, my finished pieces linger on the threshold of completion, for what memory is complete upon its conception?
— Mya Kerner

Tell us about your background. When did you become interested in mountains, nature, and geology? What inspired you to start exploring these subjects in your art? 

There are so many ways I could answer this question, but I will say:

When I moved to Seattle in 2014, I found myself in a completely foreign landscape. Thinking about earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wildfires, etc., as a real threat, I was finally confronted by the Sublime in a way I could not comprehend while living in the North East. This contrast awakened a silent terror within me, which I think most people in the developed world have forgotten. However, my education in permaculture design has allowed me confront the naiveté of being a human within nature, and to begin to truly read and respond to the landscape.


How does each work come to life? Tell us about your process. 

I begin with drawing and writing, with the pencil as an extension of my sight. I trace lines with my vision and translate those directly onto paper with line or letter. This either happens in the landscape, or in response to photographic references, which provoke the memory of a distant experience. Sometimes, I use photographic references while I paint, but mostly, I apply the paint in response to the marks of the pencil, guided by my graphite code. By combining paint and graphite on birch panel, which accepts both forceful and gentle application without distortion, I explore a language of texture. As I work, I manipulate the paint, projecting my sculptural perspective onto the surface of the canvas. 


Is travel a big part of your studio practice? How do you collect imagery for your pieces? 

I find it incredibly rejuvenating to explore the unknowns of a new place, in both urban and natural landscapes. I sketch and draw in the landscape. I also take photos, which I bring back to the studio for reference. Most of what I take from travel, however, is the memories and the sensations, which I attempt to embed in my work.


What has been the most exciting moment in your career as an artist? 

Here, I will get a little spiritual. When the interconnectivity of the universe reveals itself, I know I am on the right track. Each morning, I set an intention for the near future, and I conclude each day setting an intention for the distant future. Although at first, there was little yield to these hopes, earlier this year, I finally began to see little pieces fitting together, leading me towards something larger than before. This was the most exciting moment ­— I realized that I was heading in the direction I had set for myself and that I had the ability to decide that direction for myself.


What do you hope your work communicates to the viewer?

In my work, I attempt to recall the Sublime. I hope to evoke the beauty and terror of nature, with the goal of remembering our forgotten role of stewards of the earth.

How do you recharge? Tell us about a few of your favorite activities outside of art making. 

Being in outdoors (hiking or just sitting) is a favorite activity of mine. I love to sleep outside, no matter the weather, because I want to wake up and remember how it feels to be in the hands of nature.


What are you currently working on and excited about? 

I am working towards two solo shows, which will open this autumn. For the last year, I have mostly been working on commission work, which is wonderful, and I challenge myself within the parameters outlined by my clients. However, I love the freedom of creating work based on my own impulses and am excited about these self-guided pieces.

The newest endeavor in my work is creating wire drawings, on the wall, and on panel. One of my shows will feature an installation piece in wire, while the other will showcase a handful of large wire drawings on panel.

Lastly, I have been working towards making my own paints. I have collected soils, which I will grind, sieve, and mix into oil paints. These paints will begin finding their way into my finished pieces by the end of the year.