Questioning Our Reality: Mark Keffer’s New Paintings at 1point618
Living in a world where truths are increasingly at odds and facts are believed to be false, I sometimes interpret and apply my personal thoughts and feelings to the art I see. Often, I develop narratives that may not have been the artist’s intent, yet can still be applicable to the work in relation to that of other artists. Keffer’s fascination with the paradox of truths and our collective and individual identities has continually been an undercurrent of his work. No Us, Keffer’s new series of paintings, intends to question the relationship between the artist and the viewer while speaking to philosophical questions about the concept of self in conflict with the idea of society. He wants us to look at his paintings and reflect on our own experiences.
Entering Mark Keffer’s exhibition at 1point618 Gallery, I am initially struck by the graphic quality of geometric lines and shapes. These paintings at first appear to be concrete, straight forward, and easily understood. But they are not. Instead, Keffer delves into complex visual compositions that weave in and out of foreground, middle ground, and background. Sometimes they lead the eye down paths that abruptly end, sometimes they shift in a confusing yet satisfying way.
Keffer understands that our individual experiences dictate how we react to the world around us. The acknowledgement that each person has their own truths allows him to question: “I don’t know what we or I actually is?” There is a slight political bent to this series of work that builds on his Pronoun series. “There was something about No Us that seemed like an appropriate title for these times, with the election and how crazy some people have gone off the deep end with conspiracy theories; on that level, there’s no us. I don’t want that to be seen as a literal interpretation, but as a poetic approach.” Keffer does not intend to push any agenda. He doesn’t want to project these ideas, and he isn’t interested in making overtly political work. Instead, he directs the viewer to examine and transcend their own ideas about the truths in their own lives through the converging and overlapping of lines.
Combining hard-edged geometric abstraction and soft static-like textures, Keffer embraces the ambiguity of meaning and perception, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. Through abstraction, Keffer dismisses narrative and instead focuses on states of mind. Our perception of the world is subjective, and Keffer wonders if there is ever a way to see the world in an actual objective way.
Looking at the paintings, I tend to get lost in them, moving in and out of the spaces that Keffer creates, much in the way you might get entrenched in the results from a simple Google search. Keffer’s paintings are rabbit holes for me. I always see something new upon re-examination. The work reminds me of Peter Halley’s paintings of cells and conduits as a reaction to the technology boom of the 1980’s, albeit less minimalist. Keffer’s work also explores a more complex depth of field by confusing spatial realities as a metaphor for “not knowing.” His analog process of painting questions the digitization of experience in contemporary society.
Keffer’s use of conduits and flat-colored planes interact with sections of static, giving the appearance of roadmaps that direct the eye through the painting. This reflects our tenuous relationships to each other in a digital world where there is no “us”, as technology has abstracted its own subject matter and even its own users. Keffer states, “I want painting to be its own language.” He achieves this by utilizing combinations of shapes that he developed in previous works. The representation of circuits that do not function is symbolic of a society that is in turmoil. Many of the forms he utilizes once represented pools of rippling water, clouds in the sky, or even architectural elements, like in his Sommer Sequence in which he re-interpreted the watercolors of the early Cleveland modernist painter, William Sommer; now, the shapes tie together the voids between the knowable and unknowable. Keffer’s use of geometric forms suggest visual elements of circuit boards that convey paths which information travels through technology to reach the individual. These routes are often overlapping, or cut off, creating confusion through gaps in how we understand the data being presented to us.
Through Keffer’s perceptual ambiguity, it is easy for us to create our own narratives and apply them to his paintings, and that is precisely what he wants us to do. I read them as the conflicts between our competing identities as we spend more and more time with our online personas. As social media has changed the way we interact with one another, I look at Keffer’s paintings and they make me wonder, “Where will these platforms lead us?” The concept of who we are online does not always match how we present ourselves in the real world. How do our virtual selves, like the visual puzzles that Keffer presents in his work, fit within our being and how does that affect our relationships with others?
As Keffer posits, perhaps we ultimately can’t know. His work examines truths beyond us, yet we still want to try. If we let them, the paintings in No Us can help us identify our own truths with the understanding that reality is far more complex.
No Us is on view at 1point618 Gallery through February, 2021 by appointment only. Contact Robert Maschke at email@example.com to schedule a visit.