New York

Darra Keeton

Art in General

Darra Keeton’s paintings give lyrical expression to nature, transforming isolated details of landscape into compositions charged with vitality. In the triptych Phrase, 1991, three 15-inch squares are arranged in a horizontal row, each featuring a different, mysterious scene composed of floral and woodsy motifs. These sinewy configurations, enhanced by the gestural treatment of edges and surfaces, create their own internal rhythm, one that reflects both thematic and formal concerns. If the black bulbous shape peering out of the left panel projects a primal energy, the dark clusters in the center panel, perhaps of seed-combs, seem caught in a kind of whirlwind. The slim stems with their caps of leaves bring to mind either plants or trees, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Keeton’s handling of oil is thoroughly engaging: the forms seem to breathe, as if expanding and contracting. In the diptych Start, 1991, a solid conic form painted a fiery orange in the left panel is paired with an elegiac scene of vines and a pod-studded plant in a marshy setting, a juxtaposition that suggests an elemental transformation.

Abstract impulses dominate the overlapping structures that compose Hope, 1991, in which accumulations of fragmentary plant forms appear to be floating in light-filled and ethereal spaces. Locus, 1991–92, a wall-size installation piece of 75 mixed-media-on-paper works arranged in three horizontal rows of 25 each, reveals Keeton’s ability to translate the dynamism of nature into different genres of pictorial representation. The 11-by-15-inch sheets, executed in combinations of mostly watercolor, gouache, and ink, blur the line between drawing and painting, landscape and still life.

On both paper and canvas, Keeton evolves a world of organic representation without resorting to heavy-handed theorizing on art about nature, subsuming “metaphysical” statements in the refreshing directness of her imagery and style.

Ronny Cohen