Last night, AM visited Swarm Gallery in Oakland to catch up with our buddy Josh Keyes and to check out “Natural Selection” featuring Josh and Vaughn Bell. Josh, who just moved up to Portland, has been incredibly busy with the move and flew back to the Bay Area for just a few hours to attend the opening. Luckily, we were able to catch him before the show opened and he gave us a nice tour of his three pieces (the fourth is almost done) and even signed some goodies for our readers. More after the jump.

Josh Keyes (JK): “This one is Island. It was just taken off the easel. For this one, I was attracted to the image of the statue first of all. It’s an image I’ve had probably had for two years now that’s been resting in my files. “The United We Conquer” statue is such an overt masculine image, men looking up to the horizon, what’s next to conquer… In reality, the statue is from WW2 and it’s located in Scotland.  For me, it’s the male archetype, conquering the world. There’s a little element from Lord of the Flies thrown in there – the conch shell at the bottom which also plays off the theme of masculinity, power and also the residue of this kind of aggression unchecked and unchallenged.”

AM:  “I especially like how preposterous it all is with the bird’s nest on the soldier’s head…”

JK: “Completely, it’s sort of a crown of thorns, either that or he’s a birdbrain…”

AM: “Now this graffiti, where did you get the tags?”

JK: “It’s actually specific to Scotland. I knew the statue is located in Scotland, so I did some research and found some Scottish graffiti. It’s sort of an homage to the artists working out there. I’m trying to keep it in context. Of course, I have no idea if great white sharks are up in those waters, but it needed to be there. The general gist of this piece is the overpowering of nature and how in the end, nature conquers.”

AM: “How long did this piece take you?”

JK: “I think that it took me about two weeks to do, straight twelve-hour shifts. And then of course, I kept adding things, like the water. I’ll paint it a shade of blue, but if it doesn’t sit right, I’ll paint it again.  In the end, I kept thinking more and more about the idea and started thinking about male societies, groups and secret societies. I thought Lord of the Flies is a perfect analogy, so I threw it in, though it’s not important that someone gets that.  In the end, it’s still just a shell.

With this one I tried to enhance more of the detail. I feel some of my more earlier work was not quite as refined and with my work there’s a level of realism I’m trying to refine. With acrylic’s it’s very difficult to do. With oils, you can do a lot of blending, but with this you have to do a ton of colors. It dries quickly and you wind up spraying down the surface every five minutes and working in all the stuff.  This one was a challenge and for me, this perfection is certainly a challenge. I often work in a series, numbered one, two, three, etc, and it allows me to play with one theme.  I did a piece similar to this one called Distraction a while back.  It gravitated back to me, and I wanted to work in the same language.  You might see something like this from me in the future, maybe bigger.”

AM: “Tell us about your Evacuation piece.”

JK: “This one, along similar lines, has a big elk taking all these smaller animals to higher ground.  I love playing with perspective. I have a container I fill with water and put in objects to get the distortion.  If you line up the bottom and top, the bottom is actually much bigger. It’s a formal play for me as a painter who likes surrealism, abstraction and cubism, to put that language in some way into perceptual realism. This one went through some changes. I actually amplified or distorted it much more than the way it is now, but it didn’t work too well and I ended up repainting it.”

JK:  “You have the hydrant, which is the source of water, now overflowing with water. I’m playing with the issue of global warming and also in a way, kind of building my own person imagery too. Some of the reoccurring animals that I’m using, ones who have a personal significance to me, do represent certain folks in my life too.”

AM: “What is this one with the Buffalo called?”

JK:  “This one is Sowing (seen above). I actually went back and forth on the title. I was originally thinking The Sower and the play on the term, sowing seeds and sewing fabric.  We have a man-made sewing happening with the man-made lines in the cement and at the same time, the more natural organic sowing, bringing back nature into the concrete jungle.

JK:  “For me this piece was a bit tricky. I didn’t want it to look like its pooping out grass you know, so how do you make it real?  It was really critical to get the progression of smaller to larger grass. The hair took a long time to get right. There’s all these elements of detail that I really want to get crystallized, but not too much… I think that if there’s too much detail it kind of kills it, makes it too static, and with my love of abstraction, I’m kind of playing with it, playing with the distortion.  If you connect the lines behind the buffalo, they don’t meet up. I’m dropping it down lower and lower, playing with the perspective and pushing it back into space. It’s just one of the things I really enjoy playing with.”

In addition to giving us a personal walk-through, Josh was kind enough to sign some goodies for AM readers. We’ve got three signed issues of this month’s Hi-Fructose magazine (featuring a cover by Josh), as well as four signed showcards. Here are the contest rules:

To win a signed copy of Hi-Fructose: simply leave a comment on this post or on our Facebook fan page regarding your favorite piece from the show and why, we’ll pick the best comment off AM and the two best off Facebook, good luck!

To win one of four showcards: just leave the same type of comment in either the “Natural Selections” thread on the Josh Keyes Forum or the Josh Keyes thread in the Artchival Forum. The showcard contest is open only to forum members with either 6 months or two stars under their belt. If you’re not a member of either forum or our Facebook fan page, sign up for all three as we’ll be running more of these types of contests in the future!

Words/Pictures by AM/SF: Ken Harman

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