Jonathan Openshaw, August 9, 2013
New York based multimedia artist Kim Keever makes painterly panoramas using plaster landscapes that have been submerged in fish tanks. Originally a traditional painter, having previously trained in engineering, this diverse background comes together in work that hovers somewhere between sculpture, photography and painting.
“I was happy as a painter for a long time, but I also felt that there were too many painters in the world and I couldn’t add much to the genre,” explains Keever, of his decision to start experimenting with water tank work almost twenty years ago. “Photography was starting to be taken more seriously at the time, and I had loved dioramas since childhood, so it made sense to combine the two”.
Originally making ‘open air’ landscapes, these meticulously constructed terrains still lacked the atmosphere that Keever was looking for. Partly inspired by the German Romantics and the Hudson River School, Keever started trying to add smoke to the sets in order to create a sense of clouds and movement. “This worked to certain extent, but everything ended up a bit foggy,” explains Keever. It was then that he realised submerging the landscapes in water would create a three-dimensional environment in which to ‘paint’ with suspended colours.
Working with a 200-gallon tank that weights a tonne when filled up, Keever’s background in engineering came in handy. “Every installation had to be thought out to scale and in terms of construction materials, and if one learns anything in engineering school then it’s how to solve problems,” he explains. Even so, the weight of the water and spare plaster and other materials used means Keever is often worried about the whole setup crashing through the studio floor into the apartment below.
Once the tank is constructed and the landscape has settled in, the artist uses a combination of pumps, brushes and tubes to inject various combinations of liquid paint. Very much an experimental process, using different thicknesses of paint and injection methods, he may take as many as 100 shots to get the one he wants. When it works however, the result is eerily powerful; creating otherworldly landscapes that feel half-remembered, but also somehow alien.
Although new interpretation of landscape art, you can see much of the 19th century references coming through in the final photographs. The project is also intensely personal however, with ideas often swilling around in Keever’s head and notebook for years until he finds the right way to execute them. A truly eccentric practice that could easily have been dismissed as model making by the entrenched art community, it’s a testament to Keever’s vision that it has been shown so widely and continues to develop almost two decades on.