Capturing identities, revealing truths


The fascinating paintings of Sidney native Maureen O’Keefe will be exhibited in the Anna Bier Gallery, located within Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall, Saturday, Sept. 21 through Oct. 26.

The recent winner of an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, Maureen has also earned several local honors and her works are held in private collections in five states.

When you enter the Gallery, you will find yourself surrounded by myriad images of the painter’s family and friends, and you will be immediately drawn to these unique paintings which, although personal, are somehow universal, communicating insight and truths.

“The Mandelbrot Set,” an exciting work containing portraits of five women, instantly captures the eye; this colorful rendering of the artist, her daughter, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother is titled for a math term regarding patterns repeating themselves over and over again, each pattern a reflection of itself.

“This is about the different ways of viewing identity, my own identity being wrapped up in my genealogy, and the reality that you can’t have any one of these entities without the other,” Maureen explained.

Maureen says that she is always attempting to achieve a balance between realism and abstraction in her work, creating an inviting blend of straightforwardness and intrigue. The Savannah College of Art and Design graduate utilized a warm-up exercise for improving hand/eye coordination to create many of the pieces on display; called blind contour drawing, the technique is executed by never lifting the pencil or looking at the image being drawn while steadfastly watching the model. Using this method, then painting over the pencil lines and filling in with colorful acrylics, Maureen readily illustrates many facets of each subject. “People present different identities in different situations, so some portraits have several faces,” she states.

The mother of two has captured the personalities of her daughters, Scarlett, age 12 and 9-year-old Mia, in charming works entitled “Renaissance Spirit “ and “Harvest Spirit.” The older girl is a thinker who loves science and animals, while her younger sister is more connected to the spiritual aspects of nature, qualities discerned after briefly studying these portraits.

“The girls like to see themselves in my paintings, even when the picture doesn’t really look like them,” Maureen stated. Another darker work entitled “Hens and Chicks” includes the girls and the artist herself painted while Maureen was struggling with maintaining her own identity beyond motherhood while also dealing with her grandmother’s descent into dementia; this piece induces thought and reflection.

One of the most moving paintings communicates the many losses one may suffer throughout the process of living and dying. “Still Life,” is a picture of the artist’s grandmother on the day she died; as the former writer shed many elements of her identity, losing the ability to speak and appropriately use words, her granddaughter understood that within the Alzheimer’s victim there was “still life.”

“Bacchus and a Dandelion” is a loving portrait of Maureen’s Dad, depicting “the goofball” wearing a shark-print-covered shirt while lying on the lawn with a dandelion stuck behind his ear, capturing the quirky attitude of the former machine-shop owner who actually struck that improbable pose one Easter morning. Dylan O’Keefe, a skilled carpenter who works as a construction company superintendent, is not left out of his wife’s paintings; “OMG We’re Soulmates!” is a sweet rendering of the happy couple contemplating the repeated wonder of long-time loving togetherness, an appropriate tribute to her husband’s contributions enabling Maureen’s career in art. “He builds the panels and frames for my work, and carts it around the world for me,” she remarked.

Many distinctive works adorn the Gallery walls, some highly symbolic, others more straightforward, most inducing a second look revealing new depths and delights; Maureen O’Keefe’s complex yet accessible work may require more than one visit.

In addition to being open during DCCA events, the Anna Bier Gallery is open every day by appointment; to arrange an appointment or a tour, contact Gallery Director Tamera McNulty at 937-564-5863. All exhibits at the Anna Bier Gallery are free and open to the public.

By Marilyn Delk

Contributing Columnist

Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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