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Caitlin Keogh is known for plucking objects from textiles, fashion ads, illuminated manuscripts, and old master paintings, leveraging them into statements about gender and representation with pictographic, paint-by-number precision. When you glimpse her latest works in Overduin and Co.’s small Hollywood space––bright, matte canvases laden with florid Morrisian motifs and naked de Chirican torsos––you might write off Keogh’s first Los Angeles solo show as more of the same. Yet Waxing Year, a title borrowed from the neopagan writings of British poet Robert Graves, takes a new tilt. By playing with compositional conventions, Keogh challenges the ways in which we read the canvas and prompts us to reexamine the roles of illusion and imagery.
Given Keogh’s predilection for culling objects from far-flung sources, it may come as no surprise that Waxing Year, the series that shares the show’s title, is modeled on a collage. Modeled on ephemera the artist has collected, the seven paintings on display make up a continuous, panoramic image when arranged side by side—though Keogh divides the series into two diptychs and a triptych presented on separate walls of the two-room gallery space, denying us the ability to ingest it as a single work. The compositional framing of these paintings further deepens our disorientation, as the edges of each canvas brazenly disregard the subject matter contained within them. Hence a mirror displayed in Waxing Year 2 continues in a separate room to Waxing Year 3 (both works 2020), and the outstretched arm of the mythological huntress Atalanta (copied, minus her head, from a painting by Baroque master Guido Reni) begins in Waxing Year 5 and connects to her torso in Waxing Year 6 (both works 2021). In this way, Keogh calls attention to the narrative labor performed by an artwork’s edges (a fixation she credits to Piet Mondrian in the press release) and undermines their status as conceptual bookends. She accords the same treatment to the paintings’ vertical edges, hinting at the presence of canvases beyond our purview.
That dismissiveness toward the edges extends to the canvases’ surfaces. Trompe l’oeil paintings of postcards, pushpins, and tears in the canvas allow Keogh, in the vein of Magritte, to underscore the tenuous representational claims made by painting. Waxing Year 3 and Waxing Year 4 (both works 2020), the first pair of paintings that we see upon entering the gallery, suggests the illusion of depth through their dexterous configurations of life-like ribbons and ropes woven through tight, lattice-like patterns. (Is it any wonder Keogh once paid her bills as a technical illustrator?) Yet by interspersing these latticed patterns with blank negative space, Keogh refuses us a stable surface with which to interpret the head-spinning array of appropriated imagery portrayed on each canvas, further blurring the links between their presence and their origins.
Some of these images hail from classical sources (like the Xanthian Nereid Monument from the 4th century BCE); others from print culture (like Aubrey Beardsley’s late Victorian grotesques); and others from still less obvious places (like a flock of phallus-headed birds from a book of 19th-century erotica). Even Keogh’s round copper pushpins have an art historical origin, as they mimic the pins used in 17th-century painter Edward Collier’s famous trompe l’oeil letter racks stuffed with newspapers, letters, paper knives, wax seals, combs, and quills.
For Collier, those objects were symbolically loaded. They were the quintessential trappings of the Enlightenment-era urban gentleman: the well-heeled, enterprising, upwardly mobile capitalist speculator. Interpreting the objects in Keogh’s paintings, seemingly gleaned from a limitless digital ether, puts us on far less certain ground. Wandering across the canvas, often in broken or fragmentary states, Keogh reminds us that these images are only well-drawn reproductions: more at home in the context of memes, photo dumps, and image searches familiar to us today. They are still reflections of our inner lives, however. The canvas still offers a mirror and window, and the painter’s task remains the same.
Caitlin Keogh: Waxing Year runs from February 14–April 3, 2021 at Overduin and Co. (6693 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028).