Pat Keck

Genovese Gallery South

Sculptor Pat Keck’s ghoulish yet lovable wood figures draw from childhood fantasies and recall Surrealist visions. Though her meticulously crafted, hand-carved, hand-dressed, and hand-painted “dummies,” with their jointed limbs and masklike faces, resemble fairground puppets, they are more than just carnival toys. White-faced, with accentuated black eyebrows, dark-circled eyes, blood-red lips and wild hairdos, these figures are the stuff of old horror films. The eight sculptures (1987–94) included in Keck’s first one-person show look as if they have been frozen in the act of committing a crime. Self-possessed and grimacing, these wooden figures, ranging in height from 25 inches to 8 feet, were all designed, crafted, and engineered in the small garage studio of Keck’s rural home.

Like Tim Burton’s best film creations, Keck’s characters subvert the conventions of the horror story even as they suggest one. Red Handed Man, 1992, features a figurine who stares upward with threatening blue eyes, raising red-stained hands that drip blood onto his pristine, tailored white shirt. Dressed in a lab coat and black pants, this mad man stands frozen on a decorative wooden pedestal festooned with carefully arrayed patterns of enamel paint that look like blood.

Man with Time Running Out, 1994, is a computer-operated mechanical man who sits transfixed at a black table as he watches the sand descend in a large hourglass. Every ten minutes, after the sand runs out of the hourglass, he lifts his right arm and turns the timepiece over. A computer microchip, hidden within the larger white platform base, controls the motion of the mechanically driven arm and switches the figure on and off. This strange miniature man topped by a pale-yellow, yak-hair wig (fashioned to imitate Andy Warhol’s famed hairpiece) and a mortician’s black suit and shoes, stares with curved brows and huge, glass eyes as “the sands of time run out.”

The hand-operated mechanical sculptures and puppets in this exhibition possessed a certain nostalgia and primitive charm. In Four Sleepwalkers, 1992, four slender, wooden figures slide their legs back and forth in unison when a crank is turned on the side of the base. The dancelike motion of the sleepwalkers is made possible by the segmented joints of their black legs and white feet, which are attached to a base decorated with the 28 phases of the moon. Supported by metal struts, they march in line, circled eyes closed and stiff arms raised forward. The features of these four sleepwalkers eerily recall those of the silent film star Conrad Veidt when he played the murderer in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, while as a whole the piece evokes René Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin, 1926. Keck’s wooden people richly allude to the past, to popular culture, and to art history.

Francine Koslow Miller