Brian Keeler’s favorite painting spot? That’s a big question mark. Literally.
Lead Image: “Early Morning Winter,” by Brian Keeler, oil, 44 x 48 in. Studio painting
Keeler lives in Ithaca, New York, now, but he grew up along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and he often returns to the small town where he was raised. While there, he paints Question Mark Island, a small island of perhaps four acres that’s just 10 minutes away from the house he keeps in the area.
“My family has been there for generations, and the Susquehanna has sort of been my main theme over the years,” he says. “I like the bend in the river there, and the island itself. When the river is low, it has a long swooping shape that makes a natural lead-in to the composition. And the sunset is nice there. The river in general has a pleasant, scenic quality; that’s a nice section of the river.”
Keeler’s work is distinctive. He acknowledges the influence of 1930s graphic painting, like that of N.C. Wyeth, and some of Hopper’s illustration work. “And I like the work of Maxfield Parrish,” says Keeler. “A lot of people know me as a colorist, but really I’m trying to break a scene down into simplified values. The aphorism I often quote is, ‘Color gets the credit, but value does the work.’”
The artist paints the island from above, or from across the river, upstream, or even upon the island itself. It’s a short and easy kayak trip there, and Keeler is definitely comfortable enough in a kayak to paint in one. He tries to keep the scene simple, and looks for intervals or rhythms, a harmony of relationships, and an overall design. “The initial half hour is devoted to the abstract design,” says Keeler. “I try to have the painting work on its own by virtue of the design, regardless of what it’s depicting. I work quite realistically, but I’m not enslaved by it — or at least, that’s the goal.”
Keeler says the light may be what attracts him to a scene, but often it is a combination of things. He appreciates the topography of the land he’s seeing, and the historical aspect of the subject matter. Sometimes, his imagination takes off when he sees what nature is presenting. “When I’m painting along the river, I think it’s fun to speculate how it was 1,000 or 2,000 years ago,” says the artist. “It can be easy to do in some cases because the trees are still there and it does actually look the way it did back then.”
For more on Keeler, pick up the current issue of PleinAir magazine to read the feature article on his work. Keeler’s paintings will be on view in concurrent shows in Scranton, Pennsylvania in August, one at AFA Gallery, and another at Laura Craig Gallery.