Figurative artist Michael O’Keefe returns to the venerable Valley House Gallery this month for his second solo show. If you know O’Keefe for his gorgeous white figure sculptures, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that his artistic vision effortlessly translates into painting and drawing as well. Continuum shows pristine technique in a variety of media – all while demonstrating how the figure persistently inhabits his consciousness.
Two monumental paintings dominate the walls of large space when you enter the gallery. Michael uses a beautiful and simple cool palette of grey, blue, and pink to engage the viewer. These are classical images from our archetypal past. A subtle yet bold striped pattern establishes counterpoint for the lyrical figures.
As Corner-Stones for Rooms of Greatness (image courtesy Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden)
In As Corner-Stones for Rooms of Greatness, Michael has employed ink to sketch a powerful motion study in front of an ephemeral dappled lace mid-ground field. The figure inhabits the canvas as a diagonal element.
Cascade the Queen of Clouds is subtler – a captivating, faded, semi-reclining figure looks as though she is incised in a mid-tone grey fresco. She could be Athena surveying earth from the heavens. Mid-ground wave structures compete for the top of the canvas with the solidity of the background pink striped pattern.
Numerous drawings in the show utilize laces of various patterns as stencils for rich chiaroscuro tone portraits of charcoal, ink, and collage. In others, he fills the surface with a tangle of curving gesture lines until a figure emerges; the artist then liberates the figure with fastidious cross-hatching around her.
The Laurel Series (image courtesy Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden)
The Laurel Series is a lovely sisterhood of four-foot tall sculptures reminiscent of those wonderful small Degas dancer bronzes. Each muse’s posture creates her unique personality. They wear rough bark dresses that contrast exquisitely with their smooth polished bodies and heads. Make sure to view these all around – O’Keefe has sometimes carved objects held in simple hands on the back of the figures.
Some of the most exotic sculptures in the show are large stylized plaster busts ranging in height from one to six feet tall. Elegantly modeled and polished to a glossy finish, each piece features an archeological surface of fissures and plateaus, pigmented plugs, lines, marks, and creamy nuggets of colored plaster. These works are both extraordinarily detailed and yet distilled to the most basic shape that still reads “head.”
Michael O’Keefe has created a community of figures who surround and welcome the gallery visitor. Continuum runs through March 31 at Valley House Gallery.
Thanks to DFW A+C for running this review. Check it here.