Editor's note: The following texts were rekeyed and reprinted on May 23, 2005 in Resource Library with permission of the California Art Gallery. The texts were excerpted from the 23-page illustrated catalogue Charles F. Keck: Paintings from the 1940s and 1950s, published by the California Art Gallery. Images accompanying the texts in the catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, or if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue, please contact the California Art Gallery at either this web address or phone number:
Charles F. Keck (1913-2003): Paintings from the 1940s and 1950s
Catalogue Introduction by Susan M. Anderson
Biography by Sandy Hunter
Introduction by Susan M. Anderson
Art critics and historians of American art have tended to describe the art world of the Depression era as an antagonistic battleground between American Scene painting, which they saw as a conservative development, and more forward-looking modernist trends. Artists across the country were in fact experimenting simultaneously with a variety of themes and styles, and the boundaries separating one from another were in constant flux. All can be seen now in retrospect as trends in American modernism.
For the most part, American Scene painters sought to describe contemporary American experience in a manner that could be easily understood by the average person. They made genre paintings and rural landscapes that reflected an awareness of the difficult social realities of the times. Perhaps even in works in which social awareness is not immediately recognizable there is a subtle subtext. The somber loneliness of the natural and urban landscape symbolized an aching for greater certainty in a world that was rapidly changing and sometimes nearly unrecognizable.
Many of the American Scene painters based in California were especially adept at watercolor. They made vigorous paintings outdoors in one sitting that were raw and spontaneous reflections of their love of the Western landscape. Unbridled emotion and a passion for what could be called the American Dream is inherent to these paintings as well. Such underlying messages still resonate today and lend these historically important works lasting poignancy.
Biography by Sandy Hunter
Charles Keck's paintings exemplify the California style of scene paintings from the 1940's. Early in life, he sharpened his awareness of people and places. As a teenager, he would take long bicycle trips, and later compile sketches of what he saw and the people he met.
While attending Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, Keck studied with some of the most noted and influential teachers during the mid 30's. He studied with Millard Sheets, Phil Paradise, Pruett Carter, Herbert Jepson, and his favorite, Lawrence Murphy, who taught life drawing. His personal journals are punctuated with direct quotes from these teachers.
Upon graduation, Keck was employed by Columbia Pictures as a background painter. This training helped define his style of watercolor technique.
By 1940, he began to exhibit with the California Water Color Society, and also entered juried shows and exhibitions, winning awards. His work was shown quite extensively at the Laguna Beach Art Association, (now the Laguna Art Museum) including a very significant show consisting of 20 watercolors in 1942. Unable to personally deliver the paintings, he sent them from Alaska where he was serving in the Army. While in Alaska, he painted whenever possible capturing the beautiful Alaskan light and sunset streamed skies.
Upon his discharge from the service, Keck and his wife settled in Los Angeles. He devoted the next 36 years to teaching.
Keck's paintings are painted on location from life. They display an emotion and sensitivity, as indicated in "Tenement House". His fascination with people and places produced diverse subject matters, but he most enjoyed painting landscapes, landscapes punctuated with people, industrial scenes, and farm scenes. He loved to portray the common man toiling at his daily labor. His work is compositionally strong and well defined, sometimes "somber-toned", and sometimes neutral tones with brilliant shades highlighting the compositions with an arresting effect. He traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, Alaska, various parts of the U.S., and later to Europe. He was very prolific in the early 40's, producing hundreds. He painted on French hand made paper, and mixed most of his paints using fresco pigment with a binder.
With the advent of abstract paintings in the 1950's, Keck experimented with abstracts and abstract expressionism, but never gave up his traditional style of watercolor painting. By the mid 50's, Keck became disillusioned with the exhibition process, and chose never to professionally exhibit his work again.
Keck was a dedicated family man, who often included his wife and 4 children on his painting excursions on Sundays to the surrounding areas of Los Angeles, so he could paint on location, and look for new scenes. Keck examined and studied his subject, first hand, so as to paint it with feeling, just as he was taught so many years ago by Millard Sheets at Chouinard Art Institute.
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