Washington D.C.

Patrice Kehoe

Jones Troyer Fitzpatrick Gallery

The notion of the Washington Color School, as articulated by Clement Greenberg in the ’50s, benefited many Washington-area artists by distinguishing their work from that made in other locales, particularly New York. Establishing this artistic identity helped foster a self-confidence that allowed a number of artists to mature and gain exposure on the national scene. Recently, several local artists and writers have consciously attempted to revive the notion of a Washington school by focusing on the idea of an art of transcendence, yet, if in fact there is a discernible trend in Washington art at the moment, it is rather toward the sort of “organic abstraction” that characterizes the work of area artists like Tim Beard, Sharon Fishel, Darrell Dean, Robert Hite, and Patrice Kehoe,

Kehoe’s exhibition of 17 new paintings (all 1990) was one instance of what seems a growing phenomenon. Kehoe incorporates rich color, thick paint, and gestural handling in her painting, employing a limited vocabulary of organically related forms that include a leaf/ovoid/vaginal shape and meandering, looping, and crisscrossing linear elements suggestive of spermatozoa or DNA sequences. Untitled is composed of a patined yellow ground covered by a loose grid of soft blue-green webbing, over which elements are arranged vertically in two sections. The right portion, dominated by a flesh-colored ovoid radiating concentric lines from its dark center, is balanced on the left by a gently meandering, looping furrow. An outline of a large oval with its lower part cropped, holds the entire painting together by overlapping the separate sections and linking figure and ground to suggest new figural and spatial relationships (e.g., a hooded figure/fish head and a warped/layered ground plane). Because of the large size and evenly balanced (allover) composition of this work, the tension created by Kehoe’s building of linear elements with numerous paint strokes is diffused across the surface. Thus, the painting has a more languid quality that resonates with soft, luminous color and translucent light. This is in contrast to her medium-size and small works, which comprised most of the exhibition. These pieces have a greater degree of tension than her larger works, not only because linear elements are generally more snarled, but because formal elements remain discreet. The diptych format sustains a subtle opposition between the sections, so that color, shape, and rhythm interact across the spatial boundary created by the differently colored grounds.

It is also worth noting that Kehoe, by focusing on medium-size and small paintings, gives up the immediate impact virtually guaranteed by the large-format work. She compensates for this by exploiting figural size and process, leaving all her graphite underdrawing, reworkings, and false starts visible. The result is a sense of scale that is not only logical and coherent, but intimate.

Howard Risatti