Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Man Behind the "Menagerie"

George Keaton is a Chicago-based artist working in a variety of painting mediums. His exhibition, "Menagerie", is currently showing at Elephant Room through March 8th. George is a great representation of the artists we strive to exhibit. He is under-represented at the moment, but the potential for him to reach a wider audience is likely as his drive, passion and unique techniques are in abundance. His work is striking, starting with a rather simple subject that eventually transforms into a bold and vibrant piece full of emotion. The paint strokes, placement of text, colors and expression of the subject all contribute to a statement. The statement is not forced or heavy-handed, but rather inviting of the viewer's interpretation. The viewer's interpretation was one of the subjects brought up by guests during George Keaton's artist talk on January 30th, 2014.

His inspirations are Andy Warhol, Guy Denning, Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Choe. His photographer wife, Mariah Naella-Keaton, is also a constant inspiration. A conversation and subsequent studio time with fellow artist, Hebru Brantley, is what really pushed him into painting on a regular basis, even though he'd been fascinated with mixing colors since he was a child. His signature on each of his pieces is the outline of a small car, something his father first showed him how to draw. His father passed away before he got to see his son's paintings, but the signature tribute is a heartfelt way for George to pay tribute to the inspiration his father must have had on his creativity.

After a very warm studio visit with both George and Mariah, I knew that I was dealing with a genuine heart and creative spirit. Those sorts of people can be rare but they are a great reminder that everything is not cold in the art world. It's exactly why I love what I do!

Getting back to the "Menagerie", George starts with doing charcoal sketches of the animal portrait, then starts thinking about the colors, starts layering on the paints (can include house paint, oils, acrylics, tea, etc.), then starts destroying it a bit with water or turpentine. He wants the paint to have movement. "When I'm painting, it's just like a conversation." - George. The piece starts to talk back to him saying, pour something here, paint here, move this, etc. It's an organic process, an evolution from start to fruition.

Why paint animals? While George and Maria were vacationing in Guatemala, they went out at dawn to see the ruins and stopped to listen to the animals in that early am. Those sounds inspired him in that moment to stop painting people as he had been, and start painting animals.

Although George insists that he is not pushing any political or social agenda, we all are aware of the variety of agendas that can be interpreted by viewers. This is the beauty of art. It is subjective whether or not the artist makes their intentions known. There is no doubt that being aware of any intentions can certainly influence our viewing process. George shares with us that he is painting these animal portraits just as he sees and feels them. The animal changes from start to finish and the end result reveals the emotional relationship that has just occurred between artist and subject. He loves hearing what people think about his work as he thinks it's all constructive and important. One guest commented, "You can SEE the energy you put into it." Another guest commented that some of the animals looked like fossils as there are elements of cracking and a general wearing down. George responds, "Now you become the artist. I'm just the middle man at this point."

There is no doubt that in general there is pain in these portraits. They can feel dark and piercing, but at the same time, somehow celebratory. George is on display here. As we were installing the exhibition, he came by, stood back, and commented on how it is a bit daunting as his body of work consumes this new space as opposed to being in the confines of a studio. "My heart and my mind are on display." - George.

A guest asked George how he knows when the piece is finished. He could not readily answer as his process includes painting over a portrait many times before it feels right. Even then, it is still evolving and may change further if he gets it back. He compares his artwork to all other aspects of life. "We're never finished in life. We're all works in progress." - George. He always views his work as unfinished.

A question asked at almost every artist talk is how does the artist balance their own passions to create with the suggestions and wants of others, specifically as it relates to commissioned work. For George, he can work with very loose boundaries, but if the needs of another get too specific, they can interfere with the natural flow that takes place in that conversation between the artist and the piece. "When you start to put limitations on an artist, it starts to take away from the work." - George.

Stuart Hall was a gracious guest moderator for the talk and if it weren't for him, I may never have met George. Many people suggest artists to us, but rarely is in the inclination to exhibit their work so immediate. In this case, based on his portfolio, it certainly was. Being social and making connections is not always a strong point for many artists of talent, but it is certainly worth it to put yourself out there as you never know who may fall in love with your work and learn from your message.

"Menagerie" is on exhibition at Elephant Room, Inc. through March 8th, 2014. There is a Meet the Artist Event on Thursday, Feb. 13th from 5:30 to 8pm.
-Kimberly L. Atwood
co-owner/director of  Elephant Room, Inc.

We're Back!

I apologize for the lack of posts between last summer and now, but moving and having a second baby all in the same month put a bit of a damper on my ability to keep up with these. It's 2014 and we're getting into the groove again. We're very excited about what this year has in store for us! Stay tuned.... Artists of note that exhibited between then and now were:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Insightful Talk with a Socially Conscious Chicago Artist

On June 7th, a group of us had the pleasure of hearing Rahmaan Statik speak about his artistry and his current exhibition, "Coltan". The talk went on well past our scheduled time as the questions kept flowing while Statik passionately addressed his feelings on what it means to be an artist.

Statik's inspiration behind "Coltan" goes back to the Black Exploitation film, "Coffy", and Pam Grier's portrayal of the female vigilante. Statik is frustrated with media's frequent exploitation and objectification of the African American woman. As main characters within "Coltan", he presents these women from a liberating point of view, as they possess the strength and power frequently demonstrated by the female stars of Black Exploitation films. He understands that art is subjective and that some viewers may choose to view his portrayal of women as further objectification as they become painted representations of our need to acquire wealth, power and status. However, Statik is clear about his intention and leaves it up to the viewer to draw their own opinions.

Through this female character, Statik creates a consistency throughout the work that addresses global free trade, technology, consumerism and the tragic beauty of the modern African American cultural identity in relation to the mining of the black gold, Coltan*. His passionate drive to portray women in this way comes from the inspirational females in his life whom he respects: mother, sister, wife, aunts, artists. He feels it's important to capture their spirit through his work as opposed to their pure physicality.

In a world where "...there's constant inflation, work wages are low and conspiracies are now protocol...", says Statik, an exhibition such as this is relevant and necessary. "There's no conspiracy to greed as our means to an end is not just," says Statik. We continue to use cell phones as companies continue to market the next best one to get, when, in the end, the phones die and end up in a landfill. It is important to look at where they started and where they end up. Statik is calling us to address this issue and create awareness of the lives that are lost to put these devices into our hands.

Statik's drive to create what's in his well-known murals and in the galleries, is to have a message behind the work. His intention is to make the world a better place. He wants us to see the work and have the work speak for itself. Statik vows to not be predictable and for each new body of work to be better than the last.

When asked what's next, Statik said that the next edition of this body of work will be based on the plot of "Coltan"; this current exhibition is just the introduction.

"Coltan" is on exhibition through June 28th at Elephant Room in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago. A closing reception will be held on the 28th from 7 to 10pm.

*Mined in the Eastern Congo, coltan is a vital component in cell phone electronic circuits and therefore is an essential yet overlooked part of our everyday lives. The brutality of the coltan trade has been documented through various media sources as the abuse of the people of the Congo continues.

-Kimberly L. Atwood
Director of Elephant Room, Inc.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Community Fun!

"Alter Egos" closing reception during Columbia's Manifest 2013!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Art Bid - April 26th - 28th

Artwork by Keelan McMorrow is available to the highest bidder during his "Breaking the Line" exhibition this weekend only! Bidding starts at 6pm on Friday evening and ends on 3pm on Sunday. Online bidders can email with their name, bid amount, email and phone number. The bidding minimum is $400 for the lot of 3 pieces by McMorrow. Should there be multiple bids of the same winning amount, the bids will be drawn in a lottery.

Winners will be contacted on Monday, April 29th to arrange the purchase and pick-up of their artwork.

"Breaking the Line"
R. Hanel Gallery
119 N Peoria #3A
(West Loop)
Open Hours: April 26th 6-10pm, April 27th 11-5pm, April 28th 11-3pm

Good Luck!

Artwork Info:
"Untitled (architecture)" - lot of 3
Keelan McMorrow
ink, acrylic & watercolor on pure cotton rag
7.5" x 9.5" (12" x 15.5" framed)