Richard Keen, Kayla Mohammadi, and Jenny Scheu use abstraction to translate space and movement to two dimensions. Their works are similar in use of color and shape, but each presents a distinct view of the spaces and places that inspire them.
“I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t make art,” says Keen, who notes that he had “no doubt” about pursuing a fine art education. Stemming from his “need to be an explorer,” he works on multiple individual pieces and series simultaneously, “in order to create a thread of continuity between them.” True to his adventurous nature, Keen is not content to stick with one medium, creating paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures—even occasionally using digital techniques. This peripatetic creative process allows Keen to use “a variety of avenues for solving problems within each work of art,” he says.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Keen moved to Maine in 1999 and taught art for five years before becoming a diver and boat- mooring specialist. In his artistic practice, Keen derives inspiration from his nautical surroundings. Concerned with the “elements and iconography related to seascapes and working waterfronts,” his current body of work demonstrates how Keen oscillates between realism and abstraction. “However recognizable or unrecognizable the influence of reality is in my artwork, the end results present themselves through distorted shapes, skewed perspectives, and intensified colors,” he explains. Sea Geometry No. 152, with its prismatic arrangement of shapes and bold colors, depicts the ocean through Keen’s unique vision. Intersecting planes of color give the viewer the feeling of looking through a kaleidoscope. A bank of clouds at the top of the composition offers a softening element to the hard edges.
Mohammadi’s paintings are rich with layers of texture and color. “My work comes from something I have observed,” she says. “I make preparatory drawings and collages as the basis of my paintings.” Her use of collage as a preliminary step in the creative process is fitting, as one of her inspirations is the quilting tradition of Gee’s Bend in Alabama. Echoes of the quilts’ geometric patterns and striking color combinations pervade Mohammadi’s paintings. With subjects from the intimacy of her own studio to the vibrant cultures of Helsinki and Argentina, Mohammadi creates diverse atmospheres within the confines of the canvas. Concerned primarily with “domestic interior space,” she is “interested in large industrial space as well.” Thick brushstrokes of bold color, strong shapes, and strategic use of textural effects help Mohammadi achieve depth.
The Door, she explains, “is about moving between interior and exterior spaces.” Striated marks on either side of the piece draw attention to the door in the center. The rectangular shapes serve to break up the picture plane, allowing the viewer to feel as though he or she can enter the space. But there is a level of ambivalence: “it is not clear whether you can walk through it or not,” says Mohammadi.
As an architect, Scheu has an immense understandingof design, light, and the dynamics of physical space. Bringing those elements into her artwork, Scheu creates two-dimensional pieces that have a sense of atmosphere. Finding inspiration in her daily walks throughout Portland, Scheu is drawn to “the play of light on the built environment, gardens, ocean, and sky,” translating the scale and scope of her surroundings to colorful, multilayered paintings, prints, and drawings. The interplay of contrasting hues and different levels of opacity give her works a feeling of movement, like silk scarves dancing in the wind.
Layered Silk “was inspired by my affection for fabrics, and by a sari-buying trip to New Delhi in 2005,” explains Scheu. Her process of building up the pigments layer by layer is ideally suited to capturing the brightly dyed fabrics. “All of my paintings start with color and line, and are built with many layers of watercolor pigments, translucent gouaches, and opaque colored pencils,” she says. “I enjoy the discipline of careful process, and the colors and compositions which occur in the layering of images and materials.” Several patterns emerge on close inspection, but they are held in perfect balance: organic, curvilinear forms dominate the blue ground, while angular marks pop in red and orange.