It’s the End of the World as We Know It: An Interview with Artist Michael Kerbow

Written & Curated by Lilly Ball


I left the office and started walking up the road. I found myself alone for the first time in a long while. At 23, I was traveling from city to city with a girl three years my junior. We were auditors. Together we made grown men cry and worked tirelessly for months at a time. It couldn’t have been farther from where I wanted to be. I began to feel the pangs of my former self, and my hands began to tremble. A name echoed through my head, growing louder and louder until I recognized it as my own. I turned around to find my colleague shouting for me down the road. She was waving me back in. The time was 2:46 p.m, March 11th 2011. Cars became logjammed in the road and people flooded out of reflective buildings that swayed high into the clouds like buoys after a wave. My colleague was hyperventilating. She asked me if it was the end of the world and I told her we were in an earthquake. Having been in one previously-the Northridge quake on January 17th 1994, lasting 20 seconds at a magnitude of 6.7-I told her, unwittingly, that everything was going to be all right. Had I known we were feeling the effects of Tōhoku-a 9.0 Mw megathrust earthquake categorized as the 4th most powerful in the recorded history of the world, triggering a tsunami with waves reaching heights of 133 feet and sweeping 6 miles inland off the coast of Sendai, shifting the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 4 and 10 inches and creating an onslaught of violent destruction and terror and killing nearly 16,000 people-I perhaps would have held her hand. We found ourselves surrounded by mass: masses of people, vehicles, and buildings all rocking back and forth in harmonic rhythm and anticipation. Enclosed by our own manmade structures, we prayed we didn’t find ourselves buried deep beneath their crushing weight and caliber. What we began to fear overall, as supermarkets were ravaged and large construction cranes pendulum’d ominously overhead, was our own prolific expansion.

In Michael Kerbow’s two series, Aberrations and Portents, he inquires the effects of overpopulation, overdevelopment, and overconsumption, and what it means for the future on a global scale. Each painting poses itself as a question: is this the kind of world you wish to live in?


What are your tools for creating?
Paint, canvas, brushes, pencils, paper, and relentless curiosity.


How did ideas of a dystopian future begin to manifest itself into your work? What were you influenced by at the time?
They originated from my concerns about the impact we seem to be having upon the planet.  I began imagining the type of world we may be manifesting if we continued along our current trajectory and not change our actions.


What sort of literature are you reading?
I wish I had the time to read more books, but mostly I tend to read the news to keep up on current events, as well as articles about science and technology.


Your work seems inherently political. What messages do you hope to impart to your audience?
I try to avoid being overly didactic with my work, but hopefully I can compel my audience to question some of the actions we take in the world.  Basically, I see my work as being about “cause and effect.” There is a consequence for every action we take.  We need to be mindful of whether our actions align with the results we are seeking.


Do you have future projects or exhibitions that we should know about?
I will be in a two-person show scheduled for mid 2015 at Sandra Lee Gallery in San Francisco.


Who should we interview next?
Chris Leib.


What are you going to do after this interview?
I’m about to leave town for a long overdue visit with family on the east coast.


Hollow Pursuits“Hollow Pursuits,” (2013). Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 54 inches. Courtesy the artist.

The Sad Times“The Sad Times,” (2013). Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Fool's Gold“Fool’s Gold,” (2013). Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Their Refinement of the Decline“Their Refinement of the Decline,” (2011). Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist.

A Means to an End“A Means to an End,” (2011). Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Michael Kerbow is a San Francisco-based artist who works in a variety of media including painting, drawing, assemblage, and digitally-manipulated photography. He received his MFA from Pratt Institute in New York. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has appeared in multiple publications. You can view more of his work at


Lilly Ball joined FORTH Magazine as Art Director/Brand Manager in the Fall of 2014. She is interested in writing, people, and the forest.

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