My greatest regret in assessing the newest artwork by Alessandro Keegan is that I have to fall back on comparing it to other artists and movements of the past. Not that I’m alone in this. Critic Sasha Frere-Jones just name-dropped two genres of art and two pop culture references in the span of a single paragraph in his Artforum review of Keegan’s latest show (on display until last evening at Transmitter in Bushwick). The artist deserves better as none of his paintings appear in any way pastiche or retro; yet it is almost impossible to imagine them existing outside the long history of visual mark-making either.

Let’s cut to the chase shall we? A work like Lumen (2018) is symmetrical like the blueprint of an antique Gothic cathedral; symbolic and abstract like a 17th century alchemical illustration (or one of Hilma af Klint‘s more recent theosophical diagrams). The orb at the center appears convex and reflective as in the mirror in the background of Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage (1434); and the two tendrils at the top-right and -left, as well as the translucent base at the bottom, toggle visually between the organic and the plastic, as in Hieronymus Bosch’s plant-like structures in his Garden of Earthly Delights (1490). The octagonal shape at the top-center is suggestive of new-age iconography whilst the spheres and ovals dotting the entire composition often feel as though they are eyeballs staring outward at us. Jones referred to them as “surveillance towers crossbred with expensive houseplants… emanating a quiet warning.” Yet who (or what) is doing the warning here?

Alessandro Keegan, "Lumen" (2018).

Alessandro Keegan, “Lumen” (2018).

Admittedly, there is an ominous quality to the work, though it hardly feels an expression of modern technology, corporatism, or the post-9/11 state. One could say there is a quantum feel to them, as in sub-atomic particle models, or the extra-terrestrial beings of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, the latter of which were impervious to the emotional qualities of humans and life in general on planet earth. Yet again I don’t see the externally destructive nature in Keegan’s paintings. What I see as the “quiet warning” here feels more like a call to transcendentalism in the face of extreme modern superficiality and homogenization than anything else. Let me explain.

The painting titled Catching Dew is as delicate and harmonic as it is enigmatic and technically exact. So precise, in fact, that it’s easy to miss the fact that its foundation is a bit maze-like; meaning it isn’t clear how its deceptively simple elements were spawned or what keeps them in balance.

A single stem-like shape rises from the bottom to the top culminating in an orange orb with a green gem-like shape at its center. This is repeated above in a smaller stacked version. A thin, orange diamond outline then frames both orbs, while an even thinner red outline crosses its path and frames the stem (let’s call it that) at the bottom.

From the base of the larger orange orb, on both sides, emanates a pair of diagonal blue lines shooting downward. These culminate in a pair of translucent spheres which are dotted with seed-like surfaces. These same shapes are also repeated about halfway up and held in place by two primary red tendrils with suction cups inside the spheres. (These features are so photorealistic that it’s difficult not to describe them as though they are real.)

Alessandro Keegan, "Catching Dew" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Catching Dew” (2018)

The point in describing this, however, is not to marvel at Keegan’s technique, which is truly bold, but rather to understand the worldview he’s created within his art. And to that end, if I may be so bold myself, I’d like to posit the two works discussed above, as well as the other six in the show (all seen below), as visual enunciations of a substructure which, through its own mysterious order, produces the physical world as we know it.

I hasten to call Keegan’s aesthetic world a metaphysical opposite, however, because there is such a physicality to it as well. See, for instance, the perspiration which floats off the shapes in nearly all of the works shown here. There’s an industrial quality that results from this small detail and it compliments the alchemical and fructifying elements which the paintings mimic in a most surrealist way.

If it is a troubling vision—this strange, seemingly unemotional approach—it is also one that has the potential to expand consciousness through the simple act of looking. Indeed, to meditate on any one of them is to feel instinctually the mechanical relationship between our lives and all the lives, even thoughts and moments, which turn like a wheel to produce this miraculous thing we call life.

The fact that an artist was able to tap into that, to get a vision of this magnitude and produce a body of work from it, should give us great comfort. Keegan has awakened to a fantasy too beautiful to be real—greater in every way at showing the mystery that abides in all living things. The work is a wonderful reminder also of just how little we know about the universe and how radical it still is when we choose to imagine something beyond our wildest dreams. (Brian Chidester)

Alessandro Keegan, "Sapphire Engine" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Sapphire Engine” (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, "Silver Bells" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Silver Bells” (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, "Tree of Life" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Tree of Life” (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, "Tower" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Tower” (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, "Through the Crypt" (2018)

Alessandro Keegan, “Through the Crypt” (2018)