As far back as I can remember, I have made sense of the world through art.
Growing up in the rural Midwest, my sense of place was formed by the land around me: crops forming big blocks of color set at sharp angles to each other across the wide, seemingly endless, flat expanses of land. This is how I see things, and I can’t help but flatten the planes and translate my surroundings into geometry, line, and color. That’s the language of my work, whether it is a landscape or a more minimalist piece.
As contrary as it might sound, by removing the detail, I see a place much more fully. Abstraction gives me clarity.
Maine has been my home for a long, long time now. I love it. There is a long, rich history within the arts here, particularly in landscape painting. The greats have all come here, some for a visit and others for a lifetime. That can certainly be intimidating, but I think whenever you encounter a place, you form your own relationship with it.
Even a photograph, which we often think of as impassive, ultimately reflects the emotional state of the photographer at the moment they captured the image. With painting or drawing, that connection is far less subtle. It can’t be helped; your emotional state will emerge in the work.
I am really very fortunate. The places I paint are the places where I work, where I live, and where I hike with my family and dogs. The techniques I use, amplification of color or exaggerated pattern, for example, are my communication of that experience and relationship with the place.
In my work, I am always mindful of the spatial distance between objects and how that makes meaning of the larger place and its atmosphere, and there is a symbology of a sort. For me, though, a landscape is actually less about the physical objects that you find there, the rocks and the trees and so on, and more about the spaces between them—that’s where you find some really interesting shapes and formations of the light. The “spaces between” is where objects have a relationship with each other, and I find that endlessly interesting.
These same relationships and shapes show up in my more minimalist works as well. Sometimes people ask me about the different bodies of work in my studio, but to me, they are all parts of the same whole.
I am endlessly grateful that I get to live here, in this strange, beautiful place.
By Richard Keen (and Heather D. Martin).
Image at top: Richard Keen, Little Long Pond No.1, acrylic and oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in., 2021.