‘Loose Ankles,’ the first solo exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Brooklyn-based artist Caitlin Keogh at the Chelsea, New York City gallery Bortolami, readily displays the ongoing inspiration she continues to find in the themes of femininity, and then anxiety, minimalism and juxtaposition, the bodily form as subject, fashion and advertising literature, the historical juncture between textiles and design, and the aesthetics ascribed to roughly the first half of the 20th century.
Although said themes have been consistently present in Keogh’s work, going back to her earlier, smaller-sized and abstraction-oriented paintings akin to the influence of graphic arts and print media, her simultaneous move towards figuration and utilization of an expanded and familiar visual vocabulary heavy on the stylings and colours of pop art and comics that the former made possible, have allowed for fresh explorations. The work on display in ‘Loose Ankles’ is only the most recent of these explorations, belonging firmly within the guidelines under which Keogh has been laboring within the past two or so years, its contents every bit as richly visually suggestive as the evocative name of the exhibition.
The nature and contents of Keogh’s work should almost come as no surprise, given her background as the daughter of a “painter and printmaker” and a “weaver and seamstress,” and her self-confessed pleasure in absorbing the smorgasbord of media contained in fashion magazines. But the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Cooper Union, and Bard alum has utilized such influences and approached her interests so tastefully and curiously in her practice, she’s already enjoyed a handful of solo shows in New York City, and has been in a number of group shows including at the Whitney and Queens museums. Most notably, however, her solo show at Mary Boone, ‘The Corps,’ and her gorgeously epic multi-panel ‘Fragment From Botticelli’s Primavera Allegory…’ - an off-site project for Lisa Cooley at Maryam Nassir Zadeh - both foreshadowed and articulated where Keogh would go next.
Apart from four small paintings which do hold their own, and a series of multi-media drawings, ‘Loose Ankles’ also showcases seven quite large paintings, continuing to scale up and amplify the imagery and effect that Keogh’s peculiar, playful and understated work is known for. Such is the case with ‘Wuthering Nephron,” (all works 2016) at ninety-six by seventy-two inches, its title perhaps a play on the classic of gothic literature, but more than that, exhibiting Keogh’s characteristic soft, pastel-like colour palette, and her interests in illustrating the human body and its insides, alongside designs and patterns – in this case, floral – evocative of William Morris gone pop. The imagery of disembodiment, and the related subject of mannequins, is echoed in other similarly-sized paintings. In ‘Correspondences’, for example, an upside-down mannequin torso without arms or a head is overlapped with a serpent-like creature which could also easily stand for its innards, or intestines. Similarly, in ‘Interiors,’ a live, headless mannequin is posturing as if tying something around their waist, but that something is invisible and transparent, through which a checkerboard background can be seen.
For its part, ‘The Gentle Art of Making Friends’ complements the floral patterns and designs of ‘Nephron,’ beautifully coloured, they intertwine with white, colourless and flat swords, which in their arrangement also resemble a fence. Meanwhile, the title work, one of the smaller paintings, is a fittingly richly evocative surrealist composition depicting a pair of women’s shoes colored a milky, desaturated yellow. A mannequin’s ankles and feet are fitted in, but are tied together in rope evoking a cliché’d ‘woman in distress,’ but from in between the ankles, an emerging masterly-drawn hand holding a cigarette juxtaposes everything else, with its suggestions of style, class, and indifference. It sums up the peculiar nature of Keogh’s work, aesthetically economical, yet filled with the contrasting suggestions and evocations of its elements, most of which revolve around tropes of the feminine subject.