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Brian Keeler Reviews

Ithaca Journal- Thursday, January 11, 1990

Everyday Enigmas in Keeler’s Show at State of the Art
By George Baumgartner

Intelligence and alertness to the interplay between the ordinary and the enigmatic power Brian Keeler’s paintings.  In the majority of the 20 recent works Keeler is now showing at the State of the Art Gallery, a privileged, often irrational, moment transform reality.

Keeler’s work is such a synthesis of approaches that it can’t be categorized: his painting is photographic, blazing with color, attuned to art history, and extremely psychological.

The charm of his painting begins with an appreciation for the surface of reality, grounded in able draftsmanship and a decade of experience as a portraitist.  The importance of the recorded charm of the real is nowhere more evident than in an elegant and fully modeled nude placed in profile against a stark, flat background.

Yet even his most realistic works, which appear at first to be straight-forward reporting by a keen observer, there are disquieting elements that bring the surface solidity into question.  Is the model posed against a hanging cloth in the studio or does the narrow band of blue at the top indicate that she naked on an isolated beach?

Keeler catches his subjects by surprise, giving a snapshot quality to the event: five musicians are jamming in a kitchen at night, apparently unaware of the artist at work; two women rush past him on a street in Mexico; a man in a suit glances briefly over his shoulder at another walking a pack of dogs on a frosty New York City morning.

Keeler leaves unanswered questions that pry at the surface and at consciousness:  Why does that man have eight dogs on a leash?  Why are the two women dancing by the edge of the road while a T-shirted young man looks in frustration at the steam rising out of the radiator of a VW?

For that matter, why would a realist choose those colors?   The forms and the scenes seem to be real, but why a pastel palette?  Why a macadam the color of lollipops or patterned like an oriental carpet?  Why, if not to use arbitrary color to wrap realism in magic, to loosen up the work the way our subconscious loosens our grip on the solid and the quotidian?

For Brian Keeler dreams are very real.  They burst into the conscious, ordered world of observed reality with the effect of a pistol shot in a pastoral: bass leap through pink asphalt, pigs dance under a shooting star, the artist stalks his shadow.

Nine of the paintings, which the artist calls his inventions, explore the paradoxical relation between perceptual dream and reality.  While they are not Keeler’s most painterly nor perhaps most successful works, they are his most thoughtful, playful and enigmatic.

The flickering nature of perception and art itself is provided a witty commentary in “Artist Reflecting Each Other” To the eye of the casual viewer three artists (one of them Keeler) appear to be carrying large canvases depicting a sports car, a street, and a woman.  The observer with a background in art history will be tempted to see Magrite-like surrealist windows. In the final analysis you realize that the trio are carrying mirrors, not canvases, which reflect portions of the painting of which they are a part.   Is art a mirror of reality or reality itself, Keeler seems to be asking?

This self-referential element is developed again in several of the dream paintings, which stress the artist’s interest in Jungian psychology. Two works in particular take us into Keeler’s private and artistic concerns.  “They Galloped” wine-colored horses thunder out of a somnolent Susquehanna Valley pasture into a vivid turquoise foreground, while “A Summer Night’s Dream in a River Town” two frightened young does leap a manicured privet hedge in an otherwise normal night scene of a small town America.  In both paintings the startling passage of the animals is accompanied by the figure of a flute player serenading the unexpected and piping instinct back into our lives, a goal that Keeler himself has established for his art.

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