Foreign yet familiar. The sculptures of Patricia Whalen Keck stand still yet so full of emotion. Their bronze forms, vulnerable and gentle, greet the viewer as they approach them. Keck’s work has a soft, soothing presence; tapping into something within all of us. Informed by the need to protect and give voice, traits common to all people, Keck’s work takes on a certain sentimentality, a quiet kindness, that embraces the viewer. She taps into the history of humanity, ideas and emotions universal.
Keck considers herself a figurative artist. There is a acute attention to detail in her rendering of her forms that stems from her time spent with them. Time is a huge component of Keck’s work. The time spent creating each piece, the length of the lost wax casting process, gives Keck the time to pour herself into the work. She has said she has made work for the time spent on it. This can be felt by the viewer when interacting with the work. The time and emotion spent on the piece is tangible in the air surrounding it, allowing the work to take on a timeless quality. The rich colors of the bronze paired with the ambiguity of the figures could place them in any age.
Adding to the timelessness of Keck’s work is its content. With a Keen interest in the natural world, Keck often references and is influenced by Ancient civilizations. Without clothing pinpointing them to a specific time or place, the soft nude forms of Keck’s sculptures could easily be among those of the Etruscans, with their gentle smiles and smooth forms, or other civilizations of old. Flowers, birds, lizards; Keck’s work is adorned with natural elements, each symbol specifically placed to reference her own life and history, as well as topics in which she has immersed herself. These natural elements, specifically birds, have been a huge part of her work. The symbols we historically associate with various types of birds signify some of the underlying concept behind the pieces. The way that certain birds carry themselves, such as the awkward step of a flamingo, also help to echo the gestures presented by the figures. The delicateness rendered in these forms acts as a hint to some of her underlying philosophy; the integrity of all people and the fragile nature of life. Each viewer takes what they will from the work, as it leaves all with a sense of reflection. Regardless of what is referenced, the viewer picks up on the subtle emotional cues just by being in proximity to the work.
Last Spring, Keck had her M.F.A. thesis exhibition at the Hartman Center Gallery at Bradley University. More Questions Than Answers had bustling opening reception, yet the amount of people in the gallery did not take distract from the soft gestures of Keck’s work.Spending time in the space later, and on my own, however provided a truly enveloping experience. As you weave your way through the space, you are greeted with her gentle sculptures. It is a quiet and reflective moment among her still forms. Keck views her figures as being suspended in movement. She does this as a way to show her interest in how individuals express their thoughts and feelings through gesture. Without the distraction of clothing, the viewer must look at the body language and gestures as signifier of what is communicated by the figures. A slightly turned or tilted head, an outreaching hand, all gestures common in her work, give the still forms a sense of humanity. The placement of the work in the space not only lets the viewer have a conversation with the piece, but also encourages the sculptures to commune with each other, creating imagined narratives that further the experience of being among the work.Furthermore the shadows cast, projecting the elongated figures onto the wall, add to the envelopment of the viewer in the work, letting the stand alone sculptures create an experience akin to that of an immersive installation. Patricia Whalen Keck’s work is a hidden gem in Central Illinois. Her studio practice is quiet and self-reflective, much like her work. Her mindful studio practice, taking her time with each piece, allows her to create work that can communicate through barriers, tapping into something truly human.
Featured Image: An Installation shot of Keck’s Work from her M.F.A. Exhibition “More Questions Than Answers” Four sculptures are featured of various sizes on the wooden floor of the space. The show title is visible on on the white wall in the background. Image courtesy of the artist herself.
Alexander Martin is an artist living and working in Peoria, IL. Co-Founder of Project 1612, an , an independent art space and short-term residency program. He makes work dealing with the intersection of his queer and black identities. Follow him on Instagram: @xander9210 or Project 1612 @Project1612