We were honored to interview Richard Keen discussing his current solo exhibit at our Portland, Maine gallery titled "Sticks and Stones", life as an artist, and the Maine Art community as a whole.
As an abstract landscape artist, how do you navigate the balance between representation and abstraction in your artwork?
I’m inspired by things from both the natural and manmade world, but I have no desire to replicate what a camera can do. In order to find the balance, I focus less on what the place or object actually looks like, and instead on what it is about a place or object that holds meaning for me.
You reference removing unnecessary detail when creating your “Abstract Topographies,” can you elaborate on that? What, in your mind, becomes unnecessary to keep in the artwork?
When I look at an object or experience a place while out on a hike, I look at the negative spaces between and around them. I also try to let all the “fine” details slip out of focus.
“Sticks and Stones” challenges a viewer’s perspectives on landscapes, what is your process of approach to painting landscapes this way?
Over the years, I have developed a method of working where once I establish a composition based on my source of inspiration, I let the painting become a guide vs. relying on the source itself to tell me what to paint.
In your opinion, what is Maine’s role in American art? What is it about Maine’s legacy that calls to you as an artist, and can you talk about your relationships with notable Maine artists?
Maine has a long history of artists who have made an impact on American art and is continuing to do so. I know many artists who are showing and selling their work all around the globe. Now in the age of the internet, we also have the ability to share our work and meet virtually with gallerists, curators, and other artists around the world. So while at one point Maine felt a bit remote, it now feels more connected than ever. I don’t necessarily feel like “Maine’s legacy “ calls to me, but I definitely feel honored to be working here and have my work being shown and collected. As for feeling connected to notable Maine artists, I am always honored when people toss my name into sentences with Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Lynne Drexler, but I don’t think about how my work relates to theirs on a regular basis…. I just make my work and hope that it carries the visual conversation forward in meaningful ways and in a way that is my own.
As an accomplished Maine artist, do you have any advice to share with upcoming Maine artists?
Plan for the long haul and make sure that your studio practice is as important as any other work that you may have to do to pay bills. Find a way not to let rejections weigh you down too much, (this is easier said than done – rejections are tough no matter what anyone says). Experiment and play within your artwork and don’t be afraid to fail.
Do you draw inspiration from other artists? If so, who are they?
Oh man, there are so many artists that I love. The list is long and I enjoy learning about artists, most recently I was introduced to the work of Albert Oehlen. I love the work of Susan Rothenberg, Lynne Drexler, Jasper Johns, Julie Mehretu, Beverly Semmes, Clyfford Still, Agnes Martin, and Richard Diebenkorn just to name a few…. But the list is SUPER LONG… I love looking at other artists’ work and reading about their lives for inspiration. I feel that learning about what other artists have gone through and what they create is critical.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are currently working on that you’d like to share?
My work is currently in a 3 person show in New Hampshire at a new project space called Katzman Contemporary which ends March 18th. I am also working in the studio on completing new paintings for a 3 person show with Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in Boston ( April 20 – May 25, 2022). Further, into the future, I am scheduled for a solo show in Queens, NY at the Garage Art Center (May 2023) and I am in discussions with the Midwestern Museum of American Art in Elkhart, IN about a spotlight exhibition in the summer of 2023.