NWT Arts Artist’s Corner: The art of letting go

Wayne Keefe likes to let go of the steering wheel. He’s a ditch-jumper, an off-roader, a joy-rider, and yes – he’s crashed countless times. These are metaphors of course, for Keefe’s creative process. The artist has learned, over many decades of painting, the benefits of maintaining a loose grip and giving up control – an approach that is at odds with the regulation and specificity he needed for his career in electronic maintenance. Now retired, Keefe, who recently moved to Fort Smith from Hay River, is able to work on his art full-time. He’s traded transmitters, radars, and Ethernet equipment for the glorious mess of a studio. “Well, I’m a product of the ‘70s,” Keefe joked when asked if he was always able to access his expressive, experimental side. “I grew up in chaos and randomness, but for some reason I was able to deal with it. And at this point in my life, in order to experience what art is, I need to push past my own limits. I enjoy creating art from the direction of what I feel, as opposed to what I see.”

Keefe’s paintings often portray recognizable northern elements – the Aurora, the wildlife – yet they also reflect his own intensity and zeal. Many of his most dynamic canvasses combine stillness and movement. His Aurora paintings are anchored by perfectly still, snow-covered vistas that open up to bright zings of red and green brushwork. Early Morning Song is a surreal landscape where a deep, silent black and horizontals of firey red contrast with what Keefe calls “an over-emphasis of wave action.” In fact, water that churns and froths is a hallmark of Keefe’s style, reflecting his belief that water is life. In another surreal series of paintings, rivers are depicted flowing right up to the front doors of small-town churches. At first glance, these appear to be unassuming, ordinary landscapes. Look longer, though, and they become fantastical and dream-like. Keefe’s painted world is one where energy thrums.

Early Morning Song

Keefe was the featured visual artist at Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife in January.  You can read more about him at nwtarts.com/artist-profile/wayne-keefe or search him at artspan.com



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