Artist Simon Kerr has just launched his sixth exhibition at Wellington's Pilocki Patterson Gallery, supported by Art Access. The works are striking - handwriting and colourful scrawls, like the love-child of Banksy and Colin McCahon.
The title's strong too - On the Way To The Opera with the Drug Lord and Mr X. But that's not the most interesting thing about him.
Kerr was a professional safe cracker with and was involved with number of successful prison breaks in his 35 year criminal career. Although he balks at the word ‘professional’.
“Professional crime, it’s usually the case, is a myth. It would be wrong to say I was a professional career criminal, I was a cowboy.”
Now Kerr paints and wants to be a ‘contributor’.
“You’re either a contributor to making a better world or you’re a taxer - in my criminal days I was a taxer, because it’s not giving any goodness, it’s a selfish life.”
As to any notion that a safe cracker is elite among the criminal fraternity – “It’s a myth, it’s romantic bullshit".
Kerr says his mother was an artist and that’s where he gets his creativity.
“My mother is a water colourist, she taught creative dance, creative movement. I was always interested in art but at the age of 15 I gave all that a miss to become a criminal for 35 years.”
But in prison an arts programme re-connected Kerr with his creativity.
“If anyone changes from being criminal just because they fear prison then they’re not changed. The consequences of that have never changed me, I’m hardened to it, I hated every day of it but that’s not going to change me it must be about something else.””
That something else was art.
“That vehicle was provided and I took it with open arms.”
“I’m telling a story of a world I know and emotions and feelings that I know”, says Kerr
“I look back on my life and see it as a sketch, and now I can paint it.”