#21: Jeffrey Keith
A longtime member of the Denver art community, Jeffrey Keith is a pure painter with an astute ability to assimilate free brushstrokes into tightly constructed, color-conscious compositions. Born on the East Coast and schooled on the West Coast, Keith has been sharing those skills with students at the University of Denver for at least a couple of decades. Recently, he’s added “curator” to his résumé, working with the Vicki Myhren Gallery director Dan Jacobs to produce fresh shows at DU that invite viewers to engage beyond the art on the wall (and, in the case of the current exhibition, Storm Warning, around the room and in the air). We asked Keith to bottle his independent point of view via the 100CC questionnaire; the results follow.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Jeffrey Keith: This just might be the best question I have ever been asked about my career. Thelonious Monk. Jazz is an abstract art I relate to through my own work. Listening to Monk and others in my studio is what got me through those godawful, pretentious, dry, postmodernist and post-postmodernist years. That and Johnny Walker Black.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Eddie Izzard. Standup comedians – the truly great ones – are the hardest-working, most daring artists of all. Who walks out on stage at Wembley Stadium to a full house and talks casually, conversationally, hilariously funny and sharp, all the while brilliantly challenging and educating the audience for an hour and a quarter, as if it all just came to him there on the spot? It’s astounding. I couldn’t even take the bottled water out to the little table in front of a crowd like that without peeing my pants.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The cult of Frida Kahlo. I have had to look at those eyebrows since 1972. Enough already.
What's your day job?
I usually try to have several going at once, a portfolio career. I have been an art therapist/drug-and-alcohol counselor, line cook and caterer, teacher and artist-in-residence, sailing instructor, figure model, survey crew runt and more. Whatever it takes — beg, borrow and steal. Currently I am a curatorial consultant helping create original exhibitions and programs for the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver School of Art & Art History, one of the more respectable jobs of my variegated career.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would paint pictures and travel. Travel and paint pictures.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I moved to Denver in 1981 for the real estate and the weather: so many big empty buildings to make big stinky oil paintings and sleep in at night, so much sunshine to lie around in in the daytime. There was a perfectly serviceable airport, so I could fly to either coast easily, and art handlers would stop in on their way across the country. Now the urban pot farmers and developers have eaten up the cheap locations, and we are like any other dog-eat-dog city. Oh, well, good for us.
Ever since I arrived here in 1981, people have been wringing their hands about the Denver art scene, whining that Denver was a cowtown — which, in 1981, it pretty much was. On any given Friday night, you could find the entire contemporary-art scene drinking their dinner in a booth at the Wazee Supper Club – or Patsy’s, or El Chapultepec. That was about it. Every city and town has their own little art scene that mirrors every other little city and town with set roles and different players, whether it’s New York or Omaha. And people like to complain that their town is not as dynamic as someplace else like London or Beijing or Dubai. We can always use more art writing, but who can’t?
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Maynard Tischler, my role model for thirty years. I want to be just like Maynard when I grow up.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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Paint pictures and travel. Travel and paint pictures.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I have no idea.
See Storm Warning: Artists on Climate Change & the Environment, curated by Jeffrey Keith, through April 30 at the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver School of Art & Art History. A related symposium, "On Balance: Art, Science and Politics in the 21st Century," includes artists, academics and scientists Susan Camp, J. Henry Fair, Gregory Heming, Dr. Phaedra Pezzullo and Dr. Heidi Steltzer in a series of lectures and panels from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at the Lindsay Auditorium, Sturm Hall on the DU campus. Admission is free. Learn more about Jeffrey Keith and his work online.