August 1, 2013

Adirondacks muse for Milwaukee/Westport artist

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — WESTPORT — Artist Dan Keegan’s first exhibition of drawings opens Saturday at the Atea Ring Gallery here.

Keegan lives and works in Westport and Milwaukee, Wisc., where he has been the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum since 2008.

His creative pursuits were largely in ceramics until he diverged into drawings a dozen years ago.

“It’s definitely different,” Keegan said. “One of the biggest changes that I realized was the move from tactile to visual. That may be an interesting perspective from a viewer of works of art. From a creator’s point of view, the switch is quite profound from molding and shaping with your hands to working with a pencil, a single tool that is creating a pure, visual experience.”

It was a natural segue between artistic disciplines. Nature is the linchpin. 

“I also did a lot of drawing and painting on the surface of my ceramic forms that was drawing in nature,” Keegan said. “It was a natural progression to take what I was wrapping around a piece of pottery and moving it to a flat piece of paper.”

Keegan holds a Master of Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. His work has been exhibited in more than 60 exhibitions nationally. His solo exhibitions include Jayne Gallery, Kansas City, Mo.; Evansville Museum of Art, Evansville, Ind.; and West Virginia Cultural Center Museum, Charleston, W.Va. 

Selected group exhibitions include Leedy Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City, Mo.; Craft Alliance Gallery, St. Louis; and Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa.

In his artist statement, he writes:

“I work with nature. My career in ceramics presented many opportunities to sculpt and ‘paint’ from nature into and onto clay. Nature’s complexity and subtlety are exciting challenges for me. My recent drawings represent a distillation of my earlier three-dimensional work and reflect my interest in the Japanese ‘wabi-sabi’ aesthetic: a bit of randomness combined with the recognition of the infinite beauty and forms of nature as well as its fragility. Wabi-sabi affirms that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

“However my drawings are not straightforward observations. They are constructions taken from observation and photographs shot in places familiar to those who know the Adirondack region. I combine images, multiple viewpoints, inversions and duplication to create views of nature not wholly sensible but almost believable. The resulting shifting light sources and juxtapositions help flatten depth into abstraction. Graphite is my preferred medium for this body of work because it reveals tonalities and textures otherwise buried in the intensity of color.”

Drawing is a journey, a different kind of exploration, for Keegan.

“When I shifted from making three-dimensional objects in clay and working on paper, I started paying a whole lot more attention to the real world of observation,” Keegan said. “Because when you shape things with your hands and you form things, your focus is totally there on the thing that is evolving in front of you. Drawing makes me look more intensely than I have ever in my artistic career.”

“Heaven’s Door,” “Entendre” and “Dylan” are among his works on exhibit at the Atea Ring Gallery. He works in graphite and a very limited charcoal.

“Some are larger scale. I like working large. I love graphite. I can’t explain why. There’s something about that pencil and paper. I also like black and white. The black-and-white quality, there’s a way you can really focus on value and texture that you cannot easily do when you have color in the mix. That’s my own personal bias,” he said.

He and his wife, Janne, have been coming to the Adirondacks for a quarter century. They frequently summered at a friend’s Westport home.

“We always looked at real estate,” he said. “Six, seven years ago, we found the house we wanted to buy. We really love Westport, and its proximity to everything. We were living in California at the time and bought a house at the other end of the country. We love the Adirondacks. It’s a magical region.”

The forever-wild milieu has infiltrated his aesthetics.

“A view of a simple leaf, pond, rock or a path; it’s pretty much the last six years the imagery is derived from these various spots in the Adirondacks.”

In Milwaukee, he seeks out nature. In the Adirondacks, it surrounds him just steps away from his home.

“Everyone who comes out to visit just identifies with it as a magical place, and that has inspired me in my work,” Keegan said.

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Dan Keegan: Paintings" WHEN: Artist's reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: Atea Ring Gallery, 236 Sam Spear Road, Westport. CONTACT: 962-8620