An Artist at Work en Plein Air
Thick daubs of virescent paint sweep across George Keester’s An Artist at Work en Plein Air. The canvas itself is a rolling landscape of pigment; layers upon layers overlap, folding over themselves. In the rough, undefined composition, the figure of an artist at his easel emerges from the setting of an open forest. The facture of An Artist at Work en Plein Air is tantalizing. What Keester paints does not remain fixed on the variegated surfaces; instead, the texture of the painting seems to shift. It sways. As when a breeze passes by and the entire forest sways, the sweeping daubs of paint pull the scene upwards to the top right corner of the painting. Simultaneously, Keester’s treatment of light pulls downward to the lit surfaces of hill, tree, and leaves, most prominently to the lower left patch of sunlit grass. The entire painting is in motion. The effect is atmospheric, more settled “in the open air” – that is, en plein air – than in the earthy sepia and dark emerald tones of the forest setting. Yet amid the two counter motions of An Artist at Work en Plein Air sits the artist at his easel. Keester’s articulation of the working artist is subtle but deliberate. While the artist is merely a suggestion of a human form, there is a focus about Keester’s more horizontal strokes of the artist that serve to contrast the vertical and diagonal motion of the forest. The artist is grounded in his place and pulled forward by the tree by which he sits; the line of the tree visually points to and focuses one’s gaze on the ivory-shirted figure set against the dark green tree trunk.
The title of the painting is startlingly direct; the painting quite literally depicts an artist at work outside – that is, en plein air. Yet with Keester’s clear focus on the artist amid such swift strokes of paint, the title offers itself to a deeper layer of intention. An Artist at Work en Plein Air is rough, reminiscent of the initial foundation of paint one blocks in at the beginning of the painting process. Indeed without a signature, the frame is the only indication that An Artist at Work en Plein Air is actually finished. There is a sense of hurried pace and incompleteness in the painting. It is as if Keester had rushed to capture the angled shafts of sunlight and their effect upon the forest and artist in the limited hours of day. The motion of the painting lends itself to a “work still in progress” look – that Keester is still rushing to capture the light en plein air.
The title An Artist at Work en Plein Air becomes a dialogue between artist and art. In this case, artist and artist – that is, artist Keester and the painted figure artist. There are no spoken words in this purely visual realm. Facture is language. Rough brushstrokes communicate both the painting’s subject of an artist at work en plein air and concurrently, the process of an artist at work en plein air. Yet who is the artist? In viewing a “work still in progress” painting, it is as though one observes Keester himself, who is an artist painting a painting of an artist painting a painting.
The recursive nature of An Artist at Work en Plein Air removes the all too common delineation of artist and art. No longer is Keester separated as creator from inanimate product. An Artist at Work en Plein Air is alive and moving with Keester. Between the folds of paint are melded two dynamic beings. Here the artist becomes his art.
Holly Huey – St. John’s College student
Photo credit: George Bennet Keester, Jr., An Artist at Work en Plein Air