Atlanta artist Harrison Keys and Brooklyn-based Austin Eddy, in concurrent shows at Get This! Gallery this month, share a similar sideways humor. Dexterous and sprightly in their pencil scrawling and paint slinging, both artists reveal emotional complexity through otherwise playful and lighthearted handiwork.
Harrison Keys, who studied printmaking at Georgia State University’s Welch School of Art and Design, has an outsider artist’s hand. Always Aweigh, his third solo show at Get This!, introduces new directions in painting for the artist. The show also includes a suite of whimsical and neurotic drawings in the style for which he is most known.
Keys doesn’t seem to care if you get what he’s doing or not. His doodle-style ink drawings are crude and compulsive, uttering a cacophony of signs and symbols that are as evocative as they are ridiculous and strange. Keys’ style is both clumsy and self-assured, revealing a form of compulsiveness and unselfconscious kindred to artists like Mehrdad Rashidi, Nicole Appel, and J. J. Cromer.
Witchy Woman, for example, is a wild menagerie of psychological fragments: disembodied farm animals, coarsely drawn portraits of men and women in various emotional states, a few naked female torsos (one sporting a thong), a guillotine, an arrow, a razor, a few coffee cups. As if torn from his sketchbook, it feels personal and specific — humorous but without a distinct punch line. Like his other drawings, it reads as a satirical critique of a world Keys leaves purposefully undisclosed.
The more successful of Keys’ paintings make use of the artist’s strength — nuance through articulated line work — while also blocking in painterly shapes with loose gestural brushstrokes. The style is reminiscent of Stuart Davis, Joaquín Torres-García and Juan Miro remixed with an urban street art aesthetic.
Mean Time, the most compelling of the group, combines his signature underpinning of geometric abstraction mixed with coarsely drawn figures in messy graphite. The result is a disoriented blur of impulses, frayed and unapologetic. Other paintings, such as Needsy or You Too are more stylized and less idiosyncratic than more successful works like Counter or High Miles.
In the larger gallery, Austin Eddy, while like Keys in the immediacy of his fancies, is less frenetic. Eddy prioritizes compositional unity through more deliberately placed forms, organizing fast and loose imagery on horizontal and vertical planes. Aided by a color palette limited to blacks, whites, grays and neutral tones, the cartoonish collaged elements composing Eddy’s eleven paintings fit together like interlocking puzzle pieces.
But what seem like straightforward cutouts or “dumb” shapes (not a derogatory term), in the mode of Philip Guston or Carroll Dunham, ultimately add up to convoluted and complex figural compositions reminiscent of the latter days of synthetic Cubism. Intermingling swaths of textural contrasts — diagonal lines, polka dots, airbrush and random scribbling — these mixed media works lure with bright and punchy juxtapositions.
The joy of Eddy’s paintings is in how they reveal their content in slowly emerging layers. In helping or herding, a pair of seemingly disembodied sneakers suddenly appears attached to an elusive figure. Like stacked building blocks, its ad hoc form trails up the canvas revealing a man bending over. The vertical stripe in the top right corner is actually the brim of his top hat. It’s gripped by the hand of a long-haired woman staring up at him.
Eddy’s visual vocabulary is developed and mature, and while consistent, reinvents itself in each work. If Keys’ sense of humor is edgy and a bit sarcastic, Eddy’s is more sincere, often making fun of himself and his predicaments.
Characters reappear here and there. The Pinocchio-nose man in the brimmed hat in all this weight and slumguzzling, for example, smoking a pipe or donning a bow tie, reads as a surrogate for the artist, sometimes sophisticated and sometimes foolish. Titles such as misery and gin or can’t live long like this offer accessibility to the viewer who can enter the works through Eddy’s predilection for open self-evaluation.
Though not immediately evident in his imagery, further inspection reveals an inner monologue of love and relationship in visual form. Such transparency is apparent in the title of the exhibition as well: someone to ride the river with. Sounding like it was plucked from a country love song, and like the exhibition itself, the resulting effect is one of tenderness but anchored in the clarity and resoluteness of Eddy’s compositional decisions.