Recently, I finished reading the Hermann Hesse novel Journey to the East. There is an unassuming and mysterious character in this book named Leo. He turns out to be a person of utmost importance. Steve Keister reminded me a bit of this character. I worked with Steve for several years at Princeton University and I have always felt a certain balance and kindness about about him (his importance was always apparent to me).
Steve Keister grew up in "Amish Country" (Lancaster PA). However, I feel his view has been consistently directed beyond the local (I suspect in order to explore the larger world and see it in a personal way). Keister spent time in Rome as an undergraduate student and later completed his Master of Fine Art degree there as well. Since the late 1970's Keister's work has been inspired by a study of pre-Columbian artwork and he has made numerous trips to Mexico.
|Steve Keister, Skull Plaque III, Ceramic, 2010|
What is fascinating about Steve is how he is able to see possibilities and look outward not only in a geographic, and historical way, but also in a material way. I was amazed to learn that Steve started out as a painter, became a sculptor, and then a ceramist. These changes don't seem tentative, he set out for knowledge and a mastery.
|Steve Keister, Viewfinder, 6 by 4 1/4 inches, Paint on Paper, 2006|
One aspect I fine most compelling about Keister's work is how it skews a modernist time line of artistic advancement by pointing out cubist techniques often overlooked in the genius of earlier graphic and “craft” based works. Perhaps this ancient work did not get the attention it deserved because it's exaggerations and graphic nature often pointed to humor rather than an overt seriousness. A wry sense of humor is apparent in Steve's work. It is a subtle humor (without a punch line) related to the way one can see the world and choose to smile. It is the kind perspective one would imagine a Buddhist monk chuckling about. This leads me to believe (returning to my earlier connection with Hermann Hesse) that Steve Keister has also already made a “Journey to the East”.
For more about Steve Keister's work visit his website also take a look at information about his exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania.