January 20, 2018
Charles Keiger and I met soon after I discovered his art in an exhibition in Atlanta in 1989. At that time, his paintings were abstract: not much more than slashes of nuanced color and interestingly arranged patterns and shapes. His art has evolved enormously since then, and instead of using sizable brushes to cover large areas, he now paints with very small brushes and spends countless hours creating precisely controlled, immaculate imagery. Another enormous change is his subject matter, which is now highly individual, entertaining and tends to border on the mystical. But a few things have not changed: his love of color, pattern and form, and these underly everything he paints.
After Charles and I started working together, he began using watercolors to paint funny figures in circus-like settings surrounded by lots of negative space. I’m sure this reflected how odd he felt going from non-objective abstraction to representational imagery. Then he changed again and, painting in oils, his figures became more lifelike as his colors became more earthy. The narrative soon turned personal and more sober, and by combining surrealistic elements, for instance a tree growing a face on it, and quirky characters, like a man smoking a corncob pipe in a rural setting, Charles began to comment on his southern roots. More changes followed, many or them indicative of greater command of his craft, but also a far more original vision, and there were lots of entertaining things to look at. This latest body of work marks another shift, and this one is substantial. While the color has become verdant, atmospheric and pleasingly cool; the paintings are sparser. But more importantly, they are more masterful, thus more serious, and without losing their otherworldly quality, they are more real. I think Jules Bekker, our gallery director, describes them best when she says this is Magical Realism.
It takes a long time for one’s work and dedication to coalesce into success. Having watched Charles make the 30 year climb from abstraction to Magical Realism, I know how each step transformed his art. But still, without wands, potions or even a hog wart (though Charles does have a black cat), there has been no amount of magic in getting to this point. But then, what are fortitude, an overarching sense of destiny, belief in one’s vision and the support of a spouse?
When I asked Charles to tell me about this body of work, he replied: “I’ve been thinking a lot about something I read which said that an artist creates in order to expand happiness. I really like that because that’s what I’m trying to do. But I’m not interested in defining what happiness is, only encouraging it in other people.”
Charles Keiger has been represented by TEW Galleries since 1990.
- Timothy Tew