People are everywhere. Seriously…there are a lot of us. But, how often to we stop and actually take a look at one another? Warren Keating on the other hand, has made an entire artistic practice from watching people, their swift movements, and their completely unique makeup as passerby. His uncanny ability to capture unknowing people and paint both their movement and stillness at one moment makes him this week’s Artist You Need to Know.
I am, ironically, trying to teach people to slow down and hone their people-watching skills, to develop more empathy for the multitudes.
V: So often we see still figures in art, what made you begin to portray them in motion?
In the grand scheme of things, I am trying to create a contemporary variation on traditional subject matter, the figure, and traditional technique, Impressionism. The goal is to assert painting as a medium that still has validity in a contemporary art context. In a personal vein, all of the work that I have created over the last 30 years have been about appreciating and finding meaning in the seemingly insignificant moment. Over the course of my evolution as an artist, “the moment” has become a nano moment, 1/60th of a second, ultimately a moment imperceptible to the naked eye.
V: How do you choose which moment to paint from all your frames of photographs?
When I return home from my travels, I archive and categorize the footage on my laptop. Later, I will go through the videos frame-by-frame, looking for that right combination of lighting, subject matter and position of the body, until I “find a painting”. Then, I make a 8.5 x 11″ photo print which I use as reference to make the painting.
Vango: We notice your figures are from different places in country and world. Do you travel just to capture new people from above, or are you just always prepared wherever you go?
Although this series started accidentally when I was playing with a new video camera on my hotel balcony in Paris while waiting for my wife to get ready for the evening, I soon afterward began to travel to locations to intentionally capture aerial footage of people walking in urban environments. I have captured people walking in Paris, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Denver, San Antonio, St. Louis, New Orleans, Phoenix, Albuquerque and my new home town, Santa Fe.
V: Where’s the best place to capture people from above?
Paris, although I often discover surprising viewpoints and subject matter during my travels. For instance, I was recently in St. Louis at the City Museum, a 10-story playland for all ages ripe with aerial vantage points from suspended bridges and crow’s nests, when I captured some really cool footage of kids playing in an oversized ball pit. I’ve already made a really arresting painting from that footage, and a couple more are on the way.
V: Have you ever gone to great lengths to get the right vantage point?
On my second trip to Paris, I made reservations at the Hotel Lutetia on St. Germain, but upon check-in found out that I ended up with a courtyard room, because I had booked through a discount web site. I asked if there was a room available on the street with a balcony, and the hotel employee told me that they were all booked; no other rooms were available. I told him that I was an artist that painted people from an aerial perspective and began to pull postcards and catalogs from my past exhibits to show him the nature of my work, when suddenly he found a street view room with a balcony available for me.
V: Your paintings are both still and in motion at the same time, how do you achieve that balance?
W: That is the challenge. It’s really the old chaos vs. order problem. If every square inch of the canvas was rendered to indicate motion, the finished piece would end up looking like a field of brush strokes with no contrast. That’s why, while working on the painting, I have to find the still areas in the composition to create a dynamic piece of art.
V: Who has been the most inspirational in your career?
W: My wife and daughter have been the ones that both inspire me to achieve more while making me appreciate how far I’ve come. It’s not the easiest thing to support a family as a full-time artist, but their confidence in me helps me to keep the faith when I doubt my validity as a contemporary artist. In terms of art, my greatest inspiration has been Chuck Close. Not only are our unique styles in the same genre, but his triumph over becoming a quadriplegic mid-career is quite inspirational, and his philosophy of life and art process is dead-on. There is a wealth of interview material featuring him on YouTube; I encourage everyone to check it out.
V: What does your work say about our world today?
I hope my work encourages people to take the time to savor the moment, to find the delightful from within the banal. By painting images captured by high-speed video, I am, ironically, trying to teach people to slow down and hone their people-watching skills, to develop more empathy for the multitudes.
V: Do you listen to music in the studio? If so, what would we catch you listening to?
Yes, I like The Shins, Radiohead, and Stereolab.
V: Name something you love. Why do you love it so much?
W: I love walking. I was crippled from a congenital condition that left me unable to walk for three years when I was a teenager, so I really appreciate the privilege today. Some have suggested that is the reason that I am obsessed with painting people walking, but all I know is that I love going on daily 8-mile hikes with my wife and dog Toby near our home in Santa Fe.
Want more Warren? He’s taking us (& you!) behind the scenes tomorrow, 8/5 @ 12pm PST.
A Glimpse into Warren’s Art