EXHIBIT: Graham Keegan, paintings and installation. SEABA Office, 180 Flynn Ave., Burlington. Through December.
ARTWORK:"Freckles" by Graham Keegan
A bubbly exhibition of paintings, drawings and hot-air-balloon lanterns by Graham Keegan enlivens the office of the South End Arts and Business Association on Burlington's Flynn Avenue for the remainder of the year. SEABA is best known for its annual, and monumental, South End Art Hop. But that's not the only time the organization shows artwork. Its administrative office includes a modest gallery, enabling SEABA to present high-quality solo and group exhibitions throughout the year. Burlington artist Graham Keegan's zestfully buoyant show is a nice way to round out 2006.
Keegan's lantern installation is a playful collection of two-dozen or so balloons ranging from around 8 to 25 inches in diameter. Some are spherical, others ovoid, and all dangle peacefully from the high ceiling of the converted industrial office, like a mini Vermont Balloon Festival on a calm summer evening. These lanterns don't attempt to mimic aircraft, however. Small candles inside the aluminum gondolas are strictly for illumination, not elevation. Keegan's colors are muted - just pale pink, orange and beige.
That limited range of hues is a hallmark of Keegan's paintings as well. Most of the canvasses, such as the 3-by-3-foot mixed-media abstractions "Sublimate" and "Bridge," are layered over dark red, thinly washed underpaintings. Keegan then robustly applies salmon-pink and olive-green brush strokes, along with patches of those colors, and weaves frothy white circles into the agitated mist. Keegan's last step is to draw black outlines that accentuate and elevate selected passages. In "Bridge" the lines seem like they have been rendered with fat marker; in "Sublimate," they look more like textural black Cray-pas. Keegan's chaotic mark making suggests a fascination with clutter.
"Study for Clouds" was hung before any clutter was applied. The bright orange 3-by-3-foot oil, monochromatic yet rich with variations of intensity, is mostly a study of structure. While its minimalism harkens back to color-field painters, Keegan's non-dogmatic approach to form allows for figurative subject matter. Gear-toothed shapes, paint drips and broad, undulating lines let the painting be perfectly well realized without frills. Such subtle simplification, rare in contemporary painting, might be an excellent avenue for Keegan's further exploration.
On the other hand, he appears to have other concerns. "Main Street in October/ Even Here, Your Ghost w/Meryl Lebowitz" springs graffiti-style desecration onto a 4-by-12-foot triptych. The initial image was a streetlight-illuminated sidewalk - probably the Flynn Center block in Burlington - by well known Vermont artist Meryl Lebowitz, Keegan's mother. The left section of the canvas is untouched. Added swirls, circles and lines of stark-white, Keith Haring-influenced brush strokes creep into the middle canvas. Keegan's paint dominates the right panel - and thus the entire triptych. This exercise indicates pop-culture roots. What does the act of negation say about Keegan's relationship with his mom? Who knows?
Drawings are among his strongest works here. Drawing is ultimately about seeing, and "Study for Foot" reflects solid anatomical observation. Keegan creates space by varying weights of line as he sees fit, without assuming a strictly academic approach to rendering the ankle and foot. The 8-by-9-inch pencil drawing features a deep-space picture plane, and there's real heft to the form.
Crisp, rhythmic drawing techniques also work beautifully in Keegan's mixed-media, nonobjective abstraction "Freckles." Brimming with his signature effervescence, the 12-by-18-inch piece varies values with layered outlines of red marker dashed over silvery graphite. Incidental embellishments, such as dots and cartoonish lines, are drawn with spontaneity and apparent joy.
Keegan's limited palette of a few trendy designer colors runs the risk of wearing thin fairly quickly, and his bubbles may well go flat over time. But he's a strong artist who will probably not be content in a comfortable rut. His art is surely destined to keep rising toward higher ground.