New York

Robert Keyser

Paul Rosenberg & Co.

At Paul Rosenberg and Co. Robert Keyser shows fifteen visionary landscapes and interiors of a highly specific order. These fantasies are not concerned with the tidy transcription of inner emotional experiences but with the ambiguities of our analogical visual structurings of reality. The strange atmosphere of these oils comes not from the dream-made-vivid practice of orthodox Surrealism but from the apparent contradictions that arise when a picture contains, inextricably mingled, more than a single visual system.

The perils of this approach have of course defeated many artists who, from the time of Holbein’s German Ambassadors, have assumed that the introduction of an anamorph or two into an otherwise consistent pictorial scheme will result in a desirably disturbing illumination. Frequently the outcome is only a trite conglomerate of images which stubbornly maintain their discreteness on all levels. Keyser’s successful treatment of this problem may be attributed to a series of related factors. Compositionally his paintings are difficult to fault and this essential unity established by careful disposition of the forms permits his varied images to have the maximum number of expressive interrelationships.

Most of the pictures, such as Still Life With Landscape Machine, are conceived of as window-like openings that give onto a landscape space. The architectural framework contains an imaginary still life on a ledge-like plane. The mountainous background is striated with irregular parallel lines whose increasing closeness toward the horizon builds a deep space. At the same time these lines appear as layers revealed by a sectional cut of the earth’s crust; their hot colors suggest veins of magma seeping between sedimentary deposits. This double presentation of clean section and folded topography is the setting for elaborate inventions which enlarge upon the motifs of the still life constructions in the foreground. Mostly bizarre plant forms that range from straight botanical renderings to intricate textbook schematizations, they litter Keyser’s otherwise bare spaces. To further ensure the coherence of this already complex arrangement each picture is lit with the nostalgic luminous clarity of a vintage Tanguy afternoon. The group of three “Arboretum” pictures includes as well cloud effects in the skies; these loose irregular forms trickle and spread so freely as to offer contrast with the careful deadpan treatment of the rest of the paintings. By largely suppressing the “hand” in these works Keyser’s rich clear color comes up strongly.

In each picture then, Keyser plays back and forth with the conventions of internal and external realities. Areas shift back and forth in their identities as volumes and planes or perversely maintain themselves as both. This paradox is the real subject of the work. Such a foundation in a basic property of all flat painting gives the imagery title to consideration beyond the limited interest of fantastic imagery per se since the evocative possibilities of Keyser’s inventions enliven what might have been only the demonstrations of a familiar aspect of pictorial vision.

Dennis Adrian