Stephen Keeney is an artist who pushes the bounds of contemporary art through wild, expansive multi-media works. Presenting his first solo show at Tayloe Piggott Gallery, this body of work features fourteen paintings, that captures the breadth of Stephen Keeney’s capabilities as a painter. Four massive canvases, one cool and sparse, another pulsing and warm, build upon more intimately scaled works on paper that appear like igneous Chinese ink drawings. Each of these paintings speaks to the viewer in its own clear voice, however, when presented together, the viewer quickly recognizes the same deep place of physical materiality and process-based experimentation that reverberates from piece to piece.
Untitled (LEF14632), one of the smaller-in-scale but undeniably a centric work within the exhibition, welcomes the viewer upon entry with palpable texture in gorgeous blues that sparkle and shift as ambient light moves through the gallery. While utterly abstract, the human brain intuitively associates the composition as some form of botanical study, with deliberate application of white and blue paint framing a loose understanding of a floral landscape, perhaps a field of dandelions, but just as easily a moonscape, or, perhaps, nothing at all. Both serene and deeply mysterious, we are both perplexed of the subject of the painting yet intrinsically drawn into its world.
There’s a dense physicality to Keeney’s work that conjures contemporary giant Anselm Kiefer without the burdensome rhetoric of history often critically attached to Kiefer. As an artist, like Milton Resnick and very much like Kiefer, Stephen Keeney relishes in the manipulation of irregular and castoff materials. A former professor of philosophy, Keeney prides himself on being a principled person and is incredibly wary of the egoism implicit in producing art. “I don’t purport to be anything but an amateur,” he says, having produced immense canvases larger than most rooms. Beyond sheer size, ambition lurks within the calculated manipulation of built-up, beautifully nuanced surfaces that lead the eye on a complete journey throughout his absorbing compositions. There is scant evidence of Keeney as a self-proclaimed neophyte. Rather, this exhibition presents an experimental, practiced artist who has found meaning, or appeal, in “the idea of doing this completely futile act” of painting. And thank goodness.