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Baltimore Trash: Keltie Ferris at the Kemper

Described in the press notes as a “post-digital” painter, Keltie Ferris’ large works are currently on display at the Kemper Museum at the Crossroads. According to Michelle Grabner’s (exaggerated) exhibition essay: Ferris sidesteps the romantic traditions of abstract painting. For her, abstraction is not a vehicle for the authentic expression of feelings or a site for self-reflection. As a young painter, Ferris also eclipses a postmodern position and “its implications of belatedness, diminution, and entropy.”3 Ferris’s large abstractions are complex constructions of color, abstract motifs, and multidirectional compositions. They are not expressive moments. Nor are they postmodern rhizomes or petitions for critique. Like Eliot, Stein, and the writer Rosmarie Waldrop, who approaches language and the act of writing “as a medium, which is only a medium,” Ferris too is a materialist. This is all quite heady stuff which the work itself hardly warrants, making one wonder if Grabner has even seen the exhibition.

Splashes of color unjulate across Ferris’ surfaces, large canvases in box shape where acrylic, tempura, and oil fight for room on densely layered surfaces like trash fighting for the bottom of the bin. While the work has a nice brightness and vitality to it, there is simply little to no engagement and one gets the sense of looking at a painter’s ego run amuk. What poetry is to be found in the work is far removed from Stein or Eliot and more akin to the poetry found in children’s art of which Ferris’ resembles sans a child’s vitality and improvisation. Some paintings work better than others, their surfaces strangely captivating in their use of color and line despite (or perhaps because of) their harsh (if bold and colorful) indifference to audience perception. While “expressive moments” are arguably few, the whole barely engages language. The Dadaist did it better decades ago and with more verve.

In order to be “post-digital” one would have to have some sort of commentary on the digital, which is sorely lacking in Ferris’ work. In fact, Ferris’ work seems oddly un-contemporary. Here is an exhibition which needs hyperbole to cover what is in the end large pieces whose lack of focus reveals a lack of depth, sophistication, or even engagement. There simply isn’t much to this exhibition, in terms of content. Ferris’ work is best appreciated at a glance before one looks away to a better show. On display through February 13, 2010.


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