The Playful Diligence and Patience of artist, Earl Grenville Killeen
"In general, my aspiration for my art is to make the impossible possible."
Earl Grenville Killeen
How does your work interact with the theme of “A Generous Kingdom V: Art That Explores Story, Symbolism, and Beyond”?
My watercolor “Ins and Outs”, like all the paintings in my series The Persistence of Promise, uses imagery that draws on symbolism and whimsy to invite the viewer to imagine a story. In this picture, for me, it’s the story of my fragmented self – part free, part caged (or . . . part exposed to risks, part accepting the limits that promise safety) – hovering around the possibility of integration.
Does the idea of transformation influence your work and process?
I have come to see the transformations in my work and in my process as reflections of transformations in myself as a person and as an artist. These are evident in several ways.
Over the last four years, the subjects of my three series of paintings reveal to me something of the stages of a personal metamorphosis. The hulking earth-moving machines of the Totemics series are entities consigned to exist on empty lots and, despite being heavily armored, are worn and weathered; and, since only a fragment of each machine is depicted in its “portrait”, they appear unable to fully function. The next series, Mechanostalgia, features vintage mechanical gadgets (also mostly fragmented) and parts of rusted bicycles; they are more human-scaled and have had a place in the household and everyday life – but, like the Totemics, each is depicted in stark isolation against a background color. The third series, The Persistence of Promise, emerges from the mostly-metal world of the previous two, to present various objects of a softer and more organic nature, integrated into a whimsical scene. The ubiquitous winged maple seeds suggest possibilities, flights of fancy, and new growth. The early images in this series show the samaras taped, pinned, tied, trapped, dangling, or lying inert – but there is a progression toward release, animation, fluidity, spontaneous movement, or lightly floating aloft on the open air. The last painting, “Ins and Outs”, has taken me to the threshold of a new series, Transition. Transformation is also part of my painting process. Of course, all representational art transforms its subject matter. In my paintings, the objects in the first two series are transformed by the focus on only one portion or fragment, leaving more room for interpretation, so that the viewer might perceive a piece of a recognizable machine; or the resemblance to or suggestion of an animate creature, whether real or fanciful; or an abstract design. In the third series, the components of each picture are transformed by their unlikely combination (and the resulting hint of symbolic import and story). In addition, my painting process has embraced transformation in the development of new techniques, sometimes by the invention born of necessity, sometimes by happy accident.
What are the strengths of the medium? What are the challenges?
I am drawn to watercolor because, having also painted in both oil and acrylic, I have found that with watercolor I can achieve the effects of oil without the drawbacks of its toxicity and messiness. Over the years, I have developed methods that enable me to get the range and depth of colors and textures I want and to embrace the challenge of correcting mistakes or accidents and sometimes even turning them into techniques. Painting with tubes of transparent watercolor mixed with titanium white allows me to obtain
varying degrees of opacity. My process includes envisioning, composing, drafting, masking, painting with a variety of brushes (including a stencil brush) and a roller, layering, power sanding, buffing, in some cases applying water-soaked sand or wet pieces of tissue, or spraying the surface with water and then “twirling” (tilting and rotating the painting to coax the wet paint into softening sharp edges), and, at each stage of the process, lots of essential patience(learned the hard way) waiting for the paint to dry.
What do you hope your work achieves, in general, and/or specifically with this installation?
I appreciate the opportunity this installation is giving me to reach a wider audience in the company of so many accomplished and inspiring artists in such a beautifully mounted exhibition. In general, my aspiration for my art is to make the impossible possible.
What recently made you cry?
What has been making me cry this year is my awareness of the terrible harm that hardship, deprivation, and stress are causing to children living in the time of COVID-19.
If you could tell your viewers one thing, what would you tell them?
I would tell viewers of my work: Whatever story you may see in the painting – it is there.