Friday, September 17, 2010

"New and Used"

by Louis Nahlik

New and Used
William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis, MO
September 10-October 16, 2010

Painter Kit Keith’s pieces are instantly nostalgic, recalling vintage 1950s and '60s ads, paintings, imagery, and style. Her collages are made largely of period materials and recall artists of that era: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ray Johnson, and, most directly, Larry Rivers. Keith is set apart, though, by both the era in which she works and her femininity, both in life and in her work.

All of the pieces in “New and Used,” Kit Keith's new show at the William Shearburn Gallery in the Central West End, are portraits of women, ranging in size from 11”x14” to 36”x54”. The portraits are almost all black and white, with some containing blue mid-tones, and are all set dead-center atop or amidst collages assembled on vintage advertisements, magazines, and, in the main pieces of this show, maps. The collages are enhanced by Keith’s painting on them. The relationship between the paintings and collages are what makes the pieces work, and ties them all together with a common thread.

Kit Keith. Sarasota, Florida. 2010. Acrylic and Mixed Media on Paper, 20"x39".
Photo courtesy of William Shearburn Gallery.

The one piece that stands more apart than the rest is Sarasota, Florida. Keith spent her youth in Sarasota, the home of Ringling Brothers Circus. The circus influence is evident in the vivid sign on which she painted: an old circus announcement with a clown and beautiful combination of red, blue, and yellow background. This piece is also different in that it features two portraits.

Kit Keith. Verna Belle. 2009. Acrylic and Collage on Vintage Map, 46"x 35".
Photo courtesy of William Shearburn Gallery.

The strongest pieces in the show are her larger works on maps, specifically Verna Bella and Girls Got It Bad. Verna Bella features a large picture of the virgin Mary with a smaller black and white picture of a woman with a naked child on her lap. Below the image of Mary is a small portrait painted in by Keith, as well as the phrase “I miss my mother” made of cutout magazine letters. The relation between the mother of Jesus Christ as well as the mother in the picture and, ultimately, to Keith’s own mother, gives the piece some weight and some history (thousands of years) of motherhood and child-rearing.

Kit Keith. Girls Got it Bad. 2010. Acrylic and Collage on Vintage Map, 46"x35".
Photo courtesy of William Shearburn Gallery.

Girls Got it Bad
showcases Keith’s humor more so than any of the others in the show. There is a large painted portrait in the middle of the piece, with a circle painted around it in yellow. That is edged with petals of magazine cutouts, giving the portrait some sort of floral quality. Above that is a magazine ad of a woman within a lifesaver buoy. The text on the buoy reads: “Libby’s wife saver meals,” which probably refers to some sort of Hamburger Helper or something of that sort that helps make the wife’s job of making dinner that much easier. “This meal is a life-saver” the woman appears to be saying. Keith highlights this by putting more magazine petal cutouts around the buoy, turning the ad into a smaller flower, a little gem of 1960s advertising.

The gallery displays a great collection of recent Keith works, and is especially appropriate to the pieces because of the gallery’s floor. The age of the floor and textures in the cracks and just normal wear and tear relate to the patterns on the maps and to the general vintage feel of Keith’s pieces. It’s barely noticeable, but provides that much more of an effect of the show as a whole.

New and Used” remains on view through October 16, 2010. William Shearburn Gallery is located at 4735 McPherson Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108. 314/367-8020. The Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Louis Nahlik is a Fall 2010 Intern at Art Saint Louis. A St. Louis native, Louis is a 2010 graduate of UM-St. Louis, where he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Art History & Studio Art.