Rosy Keyser: Lap of the High Plains

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Freddy’s Last Show Reviewed by Terence Hannum

You find yourself circling like a predator, acutely aware of your own upright posture.

In Lap of the High Plains, Rosy Keyser’s sculptures offer no front or pictorial quality to ground us, so carving an arc around them is the best strategy. Each is built from an act of destruction, and offers an experience of displacement, with forms so tangled and ruined we can barely guess their original source as discarded recliner chairs. It is not just the level of phenomenological experience that they evoke but also their echoes into waste and consumer culture that make them so compelling.

On exhibit at Freddy, Lap of the High Plains marks Rosy Keyser’s first exhibition of sculpture, although a familiarity with her paintings proves sculpture has not been alien to her practice. Much of her wall based work act as relief, with layers that emerge from the wall, exposing a grid of stretchers or another act of removal. Keyser has often positioned pieces jutting out or physical portals through a surface of her assemblages, where a powerful tug-of-war plays out between the threshold of addition and subtraction. Lap of the High Plains is certainly not a stretch; it is a confident expansion for Keyser’s practice.


Tacit Repose and Lap Lip

“Tacit Repose” originates from a discarded recliner chair reduced to an almost unrecognizeable base skeleton in steel. Like a skull, it’s a moving portrait of abjection. It rests against the wall, propped on top of a cinder block with a symmetrical dent in both sides of the form. A small intervention divides it, by way of a painted piece of twine.

This is one of a few signals back to Keyser’s painting practice. It is also a nod toward her interest in Robert Rauschenberg’s “combine paintings” – where the art object acts as neither painting nor sculpture but a new hybrid. Keyser’s works manifest a more modest affinity towards the “combine” by occasionally including drips and scrapes of paint. In some ways “Tacit Repose” is the only piece rooted in previous expectation from Keyser, though it begins to edge out into space; unlike Rauschenberg’s “combines,” it denies the picture plane.

Ill Dome

Like a souped up motorcycle, “Ill Dome” features an extended copper pipe as front legs and a reclined back, like the fork and handlebars of a chopper. There you are again, trying to orient yourself. Where is the front? Which side is the profile? Perhaps the greatest question in most of Keyser’s pieces is, can it function? These are no longer chairs, they’ve been stripped of their chair-like qualities and therefore their function. “Ill Dome” has a pink seat deckled with years of paint splatter that draws attention to the fact that the seat itself will probably not support you.

I have long felt a lineage for Keyser connected with the formlessness of artists associated with Art Informel like Alberto Burri or even the reductive interests of the Supports/Surfaces movement from France in the late 1960s. In Keyser’s work the material constantly admits its lowly origin as a found object, as trash or detritus, but then goes through a handful of adjustments or accretions of paint, plaster, gesso. It mutates by way of disassembly and reassembly.

Bravo Juliet
Bravo Juliet

“Bravo Juliet” in the back room is the most bewildering of all the works presented because it fills an entire closet-sized space. There are few ways to see the sculpture because you can barely enter the room. It actually pushes you out, so you are fixed above the piece, and more is found as you look down through stray pieces of pine, various hard woods, and an odd piece of burlap bearing traces of paint or gesso.

It’s difficult to grasp what it is; there are old metal springs revealed that allude to its former life as a chair, but it has shifted its axis and keeps us at arms length. It is as if the man-made form has been liberated from its functional past as a seat and is stretching out into the space, but its transformation has been halted mid-shift. You are more aware of the volume of the room being filled than of the new object itself.

Reclining Jude

Outside on the sidewalk, one may even mistake the aptly named “Reclining Jude for a wayward piece of trash. Keyser returns the piece to the original source of the material: the curbside where we put our trash. Stripping away the familiar and assembled into a new form, these recycled skeletons bare the burdens of contradiction in an era of mass consumption and planned obsolescence. You may miss it on the way in, but you’ll never look at trash the same way on the way out.

Writing this review, as I wrote about the final Lease Agreement show, makes me feel like an obituary writer. Lap of the High Plains is the final exhibition at Freddy, a space that opened with some controversy in Baltimore, and one of its best. Freddy at times seemed distant, exhibiting artists whose connection to Baltimore was tentative, but the shows have been consistently challenging. Started by artist Joshua Abelow as a limited project, Freddy confronted many of the localized notions of the artist-run gallery space and rampant provincialisms inherent to third tier art cities.

This went against much of the regional status quo by not kowtowing to local press, staying focused on its agenda and refraining from the requisite institutional glad-handing, which I had always read as not just a part of the gallery mystique but a performance in itself. Because if you don’t realize there is a status quo to begin with, you’re already a part of the problem.

Rosy Keyser: Lap of the High Plains at Freddy is on exhibit October 3 – 24, 2015.

Photos courtesy of Freddy Gallery Website.

Author Terence Hannum is a Baltimore based visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assitant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had solo exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Stevenson University, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Gallery 400 at UIC (Chicago, IL).  And in group shows at TSA (Brooklyn, NY), sophiajacob (Baltimore, MD), Allegra La Viola (NYC), City Ice Arts (Kansas City, MO) & Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans, LA).

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