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Brian Keeler Reviews

Weekender - Wilkes-Barre, PA July 2, 2008

Artistic License
By Mark Webber

A classic realist at Lizza Studios

Lizza Studios in Tunkhannock is a splendid, airy space to view art, and in the summer doldrums, when some galleries are on hiatus, an opening of works by Brian Keeler and his former instructor, Thomas Wise make the trip
worthwhile.  Also on view, it should be noted, are intriguing ceramic pieces by Mark Chuck, but due to space limitations, this review will focus on the paintings presented.

The title of the exhibit, "Enduring Traditions in Realism," contains what one assumes to be an unintended pun implying the need for patience or ability to bear another accurately depicted persimmon.  As tiring as the varied traditions of ³realism² may be- and there have been many- it has never been style that guarantees quality in art.  And if some viewers of art are unaware of this, it may not be there fault. Lousy art history professors can be blamed.

No problem, though.  There are fine works in this show, although editing down this, another massively overhung exhibit, would have vastly improved the experience.  There are paintings on easels propped in front of
upright pianos, around corners and nearly in front of one another, It can¹t hurt to point this out, because this is where professionalism begins: hanging the show well is much more effective than hanging everything the
artist has done.  When galleries in NEPA, especially beautiful spaces such as Lizza, begin to err on the side of under hanging, everyone will be better served.

More to the point of all this, though, is the painting. Keeler is rightfully, one of the better-known painters in NEPA.   Extremely prolific, his work immediately recognizable from across a room, and this is
a claim that can be made of only a few artists in the region.  His singular sensibility- perhaps not fully formed, but consistent and original.

Distinctive color choices may be what draw most viewers to his work, but at its best, his compositions allude to such varied masters as Georges Seurat and Thomas Eakins.  Perhaps more popular as a landscape
painter, it is his figure compositions, of themes like those of Seurat and Eakins that bring together most successful the measured tempos and calculated rhythms of satisfaction.  Beach scenes and groups of swimmers
afford Keeler the opportunity to not merely depict.

Keeler may claim to be a realist, but most definitions of that term would exclude him and elevate him to the status of classicist.  Whether he is arranging figures to create a harmonious whole or beefing up his
purples and pinks, he is fibbing, at times gloriously.  Sometimes there is a Disney-like quality to the fabrications, but that is, fairly, the purview of personal taste.

Wise is less of a poet and more of a journalist.  This in not to say his work is antiseptic.  There is mood in his accurate depictions, but if the formulaic mood of dark backgrounds and glistening highlights.  One
feels the extraordinary skill in these works is the end and not means. Technical skill may or may not be present in great art.  Other things are always there.  Technique is the showoff, younger sibling of Form, Facture
and Content.  And questions raised by Wise¹s work are pretty useful; how successful is realism if it merely depicts?  Does a demonstration of enormous skill qualify as art?

The big question isn¹t whether or not it is realistic. Or whether of not it is art.  The question is and always will be, is it good?

While all of the arts- not just a painting and sculpture, but literature, music etc.- have their roots in imitation, none of the arts, when achieving the full effects of mature sensibilities, are simply "about" the way the new thing is made.  The way the work of art works.

In other words, when painting seeks only to render, without concern for elements like composition, of nature, but that is not what makes it great art and most of his work ad nothing to do with imitation.   A Miles Davis performance of "My Funny Valentine" does not revolve around the accuracy of his depiction; of the melody- quite the opposite is true.  There is conceptual leap here that is not beyond anyone willing to enter a gallery.

Mark Webber is an instructor of painting, drawing and aesthetics at Marywood University

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