Jeremiah Ketner's paintings are instantly recognizable amongst his contemporaries in the pop surrealism movement. His early work, characterized by mischievous sprites and whimsical patterns, has evolved into lush, richly colored environments inhabited by a cast of pensive, dreamy young women. Each character presents a unique brand of beauty, created entirely within Jeremiah's imagination and painted completely from memory.
Photo by Saravudth Tonsiengsom
The sprites (which grace the walls of Nordstrom department stores nationwide) still appear as inspiration for custom wooden and vinyl toys. Bringing a three-dimensional surface to life is one of Jeremiah's favorite challenges; the intricate, colorful one-of-a-kind creatures are immensely popular amongst his collectors.
Beyond the designer toy phenomenon, other aspects of Japanese culture — the fabrics and motifs, the meticulous taming of and tending to nature — provide an ever-flowing spring of insight, and Jeremiah travels there as often as possible. "I love the gardens," he says. "They do an amazing job of taking a small space and making it feel like a large environment."
During one trip to Tokyo he observed, "Design in Japan is small and round," which became his mantra of sorts, an enigmatic interpretation of his overall aesthetic. "It loosely describes work from long ago, but I guess it's more of a pen name," says Jeremiah, whose Internet-savvy fans know to look for his "smallandround" persona for frequent updates and photographs of new art.
Though Chicago may be lacking in things small and round, the city features a flourishing artists' community as well as a world-class collection of parks and museums, which Jeremiah frequently explores with his two young sons. Reflecting on the day's adventures gets him in the proper frame of mind for painting. "When I'm in the studio at night, a lot of these things come through… flowers, vines, different types of trees," he explains. "I like the fact that being in the city, everything is more arranged. People tend to treat their gardens differently than if they had sprawling space."
Jeremiah's pop culture-inspired style and unconventional creations have a traditional foundation. With his family's encouragement, he began formal art studies at the age of 12. He holds a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and an MFA from Southern Illinois University. Jeremiah's paintings and toys have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in more than 50 galleries across North America, and he's acquired a strong international following through his dedication to the Internet and social media.
Written By: Cherise LaPine