Kerry Skarbakka was born in Minnesota and raised on a farm in rural Tennessee. Over the past 25 years, Skarbakka has focused in finding the continuity in his work by planting himself squarely between the studio arts and performance. Roughly 20 years ago, the center of Skarbakka’s creative practice evolved into integrating more physical and daring self-performance-based practices with constructed photography. Incorporating video and sculpture into his approach, Skarbakka’s work investigates themes of instability, confusion, anxiety, masculinity and the existential loss of control. His more recent projects tackle issues of identity and power in the socio-political landscape.
Skarbakka’s first major solo exhibition, Existential Blues, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2002. Other important highlights in national and international venues include the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel, the Vivacom Art Hall, Sofia, Bulgaria, Museo de la Cuidad, Cuernava Morelos, Mexico, Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice, Fargfabriken Norr, Sweden, the Alhen Museum of Art, Germany, the North Carolina Museum of Art, 21c Museum/Hotel, the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, the Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and The Aperture Foundation, New York City. His newest body of work, White Noise (a project on toxic white masculinity), was recently exhibited at the Torrance Art Museum in South Bay, Los Angeles.
The recipient of support in the form of several nominations, grants, awards and residencies, in 2005, Skarbakka was chosen for a prestigious Creative Capital Foundation Grant for his project on global warming, Fluid. He received a public art commission from the 1% for the Arts Program in the city of Seattle for a 5-channel video art installation, The Elements of Attraction. In 2018, he received funding from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Ford Family Foundation for his project, White Noise. Further funding of his work has come from the Chicago Center of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council. Residencies include Lightwork, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and a recently awarded residency at Jentel.
Perhaps best known for his long-time project on falling and the loss of control, The Struggle to Right Oneself began in 2001 as a response to the death of the artist’s mother to brain cancer and the subsequent attacks of 9/11. Using his body as a metaphor or sounding board to discuss such existential gravities, The Struggle to Right Oneself along with other works have received significant amounts of media coverage over the years. From the Beijing Evening News to the BBC in Brazil, images, articles and interviews have circled the globe. In 2013, Skarbakka’s work went viral for the third time. Including the Huffington Post, Wired, Slate, the Guardian, and other internet resources, the work was translated, reaching over 125 countries. TV and Radio spots and interviews include, FOX, WGN, and PBS (Chicago) as well as, BBC Radio 4, KerrangRadio (UK), and RADIO NEW ZEALAND. In April 2009, some well-timed press out of London erupted in worldwide attention of his work. The response resulted in a featured live interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show.
Images from the different chapters from The Struggle to Right Oneself and Fluid have been written about in essays by revered writers such as Wayne Koestenbaum and Linda Yablonski. Along with being featured on internet blogs and in numerous publications like Le Monde (Paris), Hotshoe International (London), Art in America, Dummy (Berlin) and GUP International Photography Magazine (Amsterdam), discussions of his work have appeared in critical journals such as Afterimage and Hemisphere: Visual Cultures of the Americas. Co-produced by the Centre Pompidou in 2013, After Photography, a documentary film series by Stan Neumann and Juliette Garcias features his images. In 2006, Rene Daalder included Skarbakka’s work in Here is Always Somewhere Else, a documentary film about Bas Jan Ader. In 2004, ArtReveiw International Magazine placed Skarbakka in a canon of young image-makers they thought sure to impact the medium of photography. The Aperture Foundation followed by publishing several images from the series and awarded him the cover of APERTURE magazine’s Summer 2005 issue. Most recently, Eleanor Hartney wrote about one of Skarbakka’s new works, “American Muscle: 2010 Dodge Challenger” in the exhibition catalog essay for American Car Culture at the Toledo Museum of Art. Additionally, newly purchased work was published in Architectural Digest, displayed prominently on the wall of actor/singer Ricky Martin and Jwan Yosef’s new LA home.
Kerry Skarbakka received his BA in Studio Art (with an emphasis in Sculpture) from the University of Washington School of Art and his MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon with his wife and son, where he enjoys the rugged landscape of the Pacific Northwest as much as possible. He serves as an Assistant Professor of Photography at Oregon State University.
**Work was made possible with the funding and support of the Oregon Arts Commission and The Ford Family Foundation, the Creative Capital Foundation, the Mayors Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs for the City of Seattle, the Illinois Arts Council and CAAP (Chicago).