Solve and Dissolve

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A Place For Time
Triskel Arts Centre
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Nature Traces
Tandem IV
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Review taken from RTE - ACE - arts website - 31/05/2001

Tandem IV

Ardara Arts Centre, Donegal

Alan Keane is an artist with an enquiring mind. His spontaneous and transitional compositions push the boundaries of painting, through their structures, techniques and concepts.

Keane is constantly experimenting, "I am interested in the questions that arise through the making and meaning of art, rather than the solutions." Bored of working solely with brushes, his new body of work, which was created during a residency at The Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, explores a variety of different techniques – dipping, staining, layering, soaking, blotting, stripping. At times there is a remarkable resemblance to print - such as 'Swarm' with its speckled black cloud – and indeed Keane's intuitive relationship with his work is similar to the risks taken by the print-maker. Stretched by technical demands, he is never quite sure what he will end up with. He works fast, letting the composition form almost randomly, while listening to music. In the same way that a group of jazz musicians might create an impromptu improvisation, work like 'Noted Dip I' and 'Noted Dip II' are visual examples of this magic. Abstract elements of light and dark integrate to create an improvised arrangement of organic forms.

Keane's palette largely centres upon cool shades of white, grey, and blue, which evoke northern landscapes – ice, pale silver moonlight, pure blue water and mountains. The work is characterised by areas of intense flat black, no hint of brown or blue, but a complete blackout. To get this effect Keane uses ink-jet black ink sourced from old printer cartridges, he combines this with other inks, and watercolours. This creates an extremely tactile work, in some places the inkblots produce a soft suede surface, in other areas the paint drips down the picture.

Keane's exploration of surface is taken even further with his artist’s notebook. A large tome, each page is encrusted with different inks and paints; layers of paper have been ripped out and re-stuck in. Again whites, blues, greys and blacks dominate, however the book opens with several pages of bright yellow, a little sun before the chill. We are aware that Keane’s book is a very important aspect of his work. He is fascinated by artists’ journals, which, without need of words, are able to use an entirely visual language.

"My work is an exploration of what we might find beneath the layers of commonplace." Like the French photographer Bressau, Keane introduces us to a secret, transitional place. Somewhere which is so profound, because it is always beneath the ordinary. His body of work is intensely organic, yet not immediately recognisable. We sense that we are moving between two layers, between the skin and the flesh, and catching glimpses of what grows between. This is particularly strong in his small works like 'Folk Turtle', 'Shadow Figure II', 'Open Book' and 'Pond Life'. In the latter the inks or paints blot like spores, and we are viewing just beneath the surface of a stagnant pond.

Keane believes that no matter how spontaneously, intuitively or abstractly he might work, there is no getting away from referring to landscape and nature in his work. He is fascinated by the conundrum of recreating the phenomenon of nature within art, and is particularly drawn to freak occurrences, such as Tidal Waves. His series of paintings, which focus upon the sea, evoke the weather, and movement of this locale, yet they are completely diverse compositionally. 'Sea Thaw' appears almost like camouflage as different forms dissolve into each other, it is a perfect response to what you might see as ice melts and different currents cause varying degrees of thaw.

In 'Sea Level' Keane plays with line, but not in a traditional sense. A powerful silhouette is created almost by a reversal of technique (like a photographic negative) and by taping off areas, and drenching the rest with his black ink-jet ink. 'Sea Moon' could be described as the most painterly of the three. A large round moon bleeds blue as paint drips down the surface of the painting, melting into an icy sea. It is distinctly poetic.

'Untitled' reveals Keane's interest in mountain-landscape, as the mountain appears to dissolve into a white stream (of water, of lava?). Again dominated by blue, black and white, Keane’s meditative palette becomes more passionate with the introduction of deep purple seeping from the edges of his organic formations.

Winner of the prestigious 'Scoíp' painting award in Kerry earlier this year, Alan Keane is an exciting young artist. His work is never complacent, but is a constant transformation of method and medium, as elusive and individual as the natural world he evokes.

Noëlle Harrison

Alan Keane's paintings are part of a two-man show 'Tandem IV' at the Ardara Artists Resource Centre in Donegal. He is showing alongside Brian Byrne's paintings of St Conals Turas and views of Doochery, until 4 June 2001.

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This review first appeared on the RTE Ace arts website.

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