Billy Keen: Artist’s Statement
The mystery of our spiritual journey through life has inspired my work. I use mixed media and acrylic on wood panel with sculptural elements, fabricated from wood, bone and ivory, to encourage the viewer to interact with the image emotionally, physically and intellectually.
Most of the paintings have three components: representational, abstraction, and sculptural elements. My challenge is to combine the elements into a whole.
The creative act, or discovery, takes place by selecting, shuffling and mixing all those ideas and materials. The Latin verb cogito (to think) means "to shake together." I want this shaking together to allow the viewer to feel both connected to the external world and free to journey to an eternal world - the inner reality of self and God.
The result of this struggle is art tied to nature, ambiguous narratives, holding the eroded past while offering a glimpse of the future.
As a painter, I think of my vocation as an effort against superficiality. My work flies in opposition to our amnesiac, banal, easy culture.
I grew up in rural North Texas and looking back, I see that my childhood journey predisposed me against superficiality. My parents worked hard and led me largely to reject a self-gratifying culture with easy fixes like the mall. Instead, I was taught to rely on more ancient, substantial foundations like prayer, nature and family.
What I bring to art today is an ability to see through easy fixes. I don't care for a lot of contemporary "Christian" art. Much of it is just too sweet, too sentimental and gooey, like caramel. It tastes good at first, but then gets stuck in my teeth and starts to make me feel nauseated. Comparing easy art with that of the Masters is a bit like comparing greeting card verses to Jon Donne's sonnets. Although experiencing the Rothko Chapel may no be easy, it evolves with stark clarity the mystery of our spiritual journey.
Artists whose work most inspires me are Robert Raushenberg, Mark Rothko, Charles Schorre, Roy Fridge and Forest Bess. They influence through the objects they have created and their courage to produce demanding work.
I am influenced by almost everything that is happening. I am touched by the romance of the past, the excitement and depression of now and the anticipation of what is to come. I am motivated by love received and given.
I cannot not paint. As I continue venturing into hybrids of assemblage and painted relief sculpture, I give thanks for the mystery of the Journey.