Artist Spotlight: Richard Keen

Our gallery Director Allyson Boli sat down with Richard Keen to learn more about his creative process. Not only is Richard both a talented painter and sculptor, but he also has three studio dogs! Read our interview below to learn more about him:

Allyson Boli: What was your initial spark to be an artist?  

Richard Keen: I can remember drawing and tracing a lot as a child. Throughout school, I also gravitated to art and music classes and fortunately went to a public high school that had a solid art program with four art faculty who were very supportive.  After high school, when it came time to decide between moving to LA to become a “Rock and Roll Star” versus going to college for art, something inside me must have known I would be a better visual artist – that plus a heavy parental urging to go to college.   

AB: What is your creative process like? Do you begin with an end result envisioned?

RK: My creative process generally starts with turning on music and looking around at what I did last. I often have at least 10-15 pieces happening at once and paints mixed up ready to go so that I can jump right in and get messy. Most of my work starts with putting down some light ground colors with acrylics to block out some simple shapes. Then, I start building up lines, shapes, colors and textures with my oils. Sometimes I have a sense of a basic direction that I want a painting to head in, or I try to capture elements of other paintings that I’ve completed, but I don’t typically have a vision for an end result. 

AB: So it sounds like you’re working on multiple pieces at once, how does that play into your overall process?

RK: Yes, I find that working on similar but different bodies of work at the same time keeps my work moving in interesting directions. I often find that one painting, or group of paintings, informs the other and helps me with color choices, textures and generally keeps me from getting stuck in a rut. 

AB: What inspired your sculptural and shaped paintings? 

RK: My current sculptural and shaped paintings come from within my “Form Singularity” paintings and through finding shapes that resonate with me. I’ve been exploring three-dimensional work as far back as I can remember, but I think that I would have to say that making shaped paintings could be directly attributed to my appreciation for Elizabeth Murray’s work. I can also say that walking through a boatyard in the off season, and seeing how boat hulls get sanded and repainted also stimulated my urge to make shaped work. I think I saw a rudder laying on the ground half sanded by the yard crew… that was a moment of inspiration for me too.

AB: What made you move toward the more minimal style of the Form Singularity series?  

RK: I’ve leaned towards simplifying, reducing, and minimizing the amount of information that I put onto the canvas all along my path as an artist. As far back as high school, I remember working with simplified shapes and amplified colors. My “Form Singularity” Series is, in a sense, my natural state of being, while my other series act as bridges for viewers to cross over into the way I see the world.   

AB: Are there any artists that inform your work?  

RK: Oh yes… I love so many fantastic artists. I mentioned Elizabeth Murray earlier, who I was lucky enough to meet a couple times. I’m a fan of Richard Diebenkorn, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler and so many of the late greats. A few contemporary artists that I admire greatly are Julie Mehretu, Cadence Giersbach, Chris Ofili, Gary Hume and David Tremlett.  

AB: What are you currently working on? 

RK: I’m currently working on new “Form Singularity” paintings, new “Island Geometry and Sea Geometry” paintings, and several new sculptures while balancing out the demands of a couple upcoming three-person shows here in Maine. I’m also working on a Public Art Project through Maine’s Percent for Art Program. The multi-panel mural is an 8’ x 8’ abstraction made up of 6 geometric panels linked closely to my “Island Geometry” and will be installed in June of 2020.

View Richard Keen’s work in our exhibition Almost Exactly on view through June 16, 2019.

Artist Richard Keen in front of his work at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery: Form Singularity No. 165, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 72 x 64 in., 2019

Artist Interview: The Safarani Sisters on Performance Art

Performance art is a form of fine art that has had a notable role in many artistic movements in the twentieth century. It has been a way to express ideas without the limitations presented by traditional two- and three-dimensional mediums, vital to radical artistic movements and conveying emotional and political messages.

The Safarani Sisters are twins hailing from the University of Tehran in Iran who are completing their graduate studies in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University. They are traditionally trained painters who began exploring new mediums, which led them to video and eventually, performance. In 2015, they performed Cocoon in the Plaza Black Box at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The Safarani Sisters performing "Cocoon" at the Boston Center for the Arts

The Safarani Sisters performing "Cocoon" at the Boston Center for the Arts

In this interview, they explain the reason an artist may choose the medium of performance, and what we, as the audience, can experience with a performance that is unique to other forms of art.

How did you transition from traditional painters to performance artists?

We did our undergrad in the University of Tehran. During that time we were helping other people with their performances in the theatre department. Because we were painters, we could do painting for scenes and décor.

We started doing more experimental work from there. Then when we came [to Boston], we incorporated video with painting. Because we had some background in performance and video art, we started making our own individual videos. We did a performance called “Cocoon”, and it was very successful, which encouraged us to do more with performance and video art.

What was the story of Cocoon?

Cocoon is the story of a person who turns into herself, like a butterfly forming in a cocoon. She is tangled inside her apartment—all of the shots are inside of her room. She doesn’t want to come out because she doesn’t want to contact the world around her before learning who she is through herself.

We made a video of this, and with ourselves as the subject. The video is about one hour, and we performed it in a black box in the Boston Center for the Arts. We had live music—six musicians watching the video and playing impromptu. On the stage, we were both sitting and sewing a very long tulle as if it is the cocoon she is sewing for herself, and at the end of the video I started to wrap my sister in that tulle on stage. Because we are twins, people will think that these two subjects of the performance are one subject, which means that I have been sewing this cocoon for myself, and at the end I wrap it around myself.

Why did you choose to tell this story through performance?

We didn’t want to do a performance just to do a performance; we thought that the most effective way to tell our story was by performing it. The subject is the most important thing you have to think about. What form of art can tell that story better? We still do painting and videos, but when we have a subject that we can’t do through painting or video, we do performance. We think that there are different forms of art, and everything is meant for a specific statement.


You also have to know the audience in the context. What makes performance different is that when we were performing in the black box, the audience was very engaged with what was happening on the stage. We created an atmosphere of a very dark place that people could imagine that they were also within. It was more mental. The concept was “cocoon”, so we thought if we performed that in a black box, people would feel like they were also in a cocoon, and could better understand the subject.

The Safarani Sisters performing Orpheus (2010)

The Safarani Sisters performing Orpheus (2010)

What draws you to performance art as a medium?

It’s a temporary context: a specific moment for the audience to experience a personal connection. There was a moment in our performance of Cocoon that was fifteen minutes, only me and my sister gazing at each other—a connection that could not be captured. Sharing and engaging the audience in this creates a beautiful moment with them. Then that moment disappears when the performance is over.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

We have another video performance coming up that is different from Cocoon, called The Extent, which we are hoping to get a venue for. The video is almost complete; it is filmed in Iran. The Extent continues from Cocoon and follows the narrative of the same character. The subject of Cocoon was a woman who turned to herself in order to know herself without being distracted by the world. In The Extent she comes out of her cocoon and walks to explore the world. She is upset to find that life is a short journey just from womb to tomb.  Thousands of questions come to her mind regarding the fact that people are fighting on the earth, and for what reasons. To depict this narrative, we have filmed the subject in two different places. One is the cemetery where there are thousands of empty tombs waiting to be filled with people, and the other is the roof of a building where the texture of other buildings looks like the cemetery, filled with the people who are going to fill the tombs. Birth to death is just a moment between womb and tomb, and it is never worth depriving each other of this beautiful moment just to have a bit more space to stand.

Come meet the Safarani Sisters and view their video paintings at the opening for Abigail Ogilvy Gallery's group show, Dualisms on Friday, March 4, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016: Puloma Ghosh