Caitlin Keogh, Blank Melody, Old Wall, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 63 inches (213.4 x 160 cm). Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté Art Acquisition Fund and Anonymous Art Acquisition Fund. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami, New York. © Caitlin Keogh
The work of New York–based painter Caitlin Keogh considers the history of gender and representation, the articulation of personal style, and the construction of artistic identity. With a background in technical illustration and an interest in clothing design, interior decoration, and art history, Keogh’s vivid and exacting painterly style combines the graphic lines of hand-drawn commercial illustration with the bold, flat colors of the applied arts.
The fragmented and idealized female body—often appearing sculptural or mannequin-like—is a loaded political metaphor in Keogh’s figuration, symptomatic of the violence against women in a patriarchal culture that influences representations of women in art history and popular culture. In Blank Melody, Old Wall, which the artist conceived as part of a group of works for her 2018 ICA exhibition, we perceive a portion of a limp, statuesque arm bound with a knotted rope. This arm extends across an indeterminate interior space decorated with a purple and black checkerboard pattern. Inspired by illuminated medieval manuscripts, a length of ornamental fabric embellished with natural motifs unravels and comes alive, as a jet black tress protrudes from a cartoonishly rendered hole at the top of the canvas. Peeled away passages of paint, modeled on degraded frescoes, disrupt the immediacy of the image and reinforce the idea that the surface of the painting is an imaginary space in which a seemingly indiscernible drama unfolds. Even as the female body appears fragmented and bound, pointing to a sense of violence inherent in representations of women, the figures in Keogh’s paintings decisively evade easy identification, exploring indeterminacy as a form of resistance.
The ICA presented Keogh’s first solo museum presentation in 2018. This work builds on a developing strength of the ICA’s holdings in painting, joining recently added works from artists such as Sadie Benning, Laura Owens, Dana Schutz, and Henry Taylor.