Rosy Keyser: Promethean Dub

Art Review
December 1, 2011

In mythical times, Prometheus, that wily Titan, stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humankind, thus initiating our eternal struggle to harness an energy that is more powerful than we are, made as it were for the gods. In her solo exhibition Prometheus Dub, Rosy Keyser brings this struggle for mastery in this realm of contemporary art. In her compositions, she wrangles with industrial materials – sawdust, house paint, copper, linen, enamel, wood, burlap – and threatens to contain them, to degrade them, to force them to suit her purposes. They, in turn, fight back: a nail punctures the side of a canvas in Fleeting Gleam (all works 2011); in Coyote with a Flash, a tube of straws, reminiscent of a macaroni necklace, disappears in the dark intestine of an enameled black surface only to violently erupt in a fissure at the bottom of the canvas. These works, like most in the show, belie an outward appearance of lifeless abstraction, exposing themselves upon inspection as brilliant, forceful, living creatures, roiling with furious energy beneath their static surfaces.

The exhibition makes the argument that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transmuted into different forms. When the artist tries to harness the life of a material, as she does by trapping AV tape and fishing lines beneath heavy swathes of black house paint in To Swallow the Sea, it’s at the expense of the canvas, which in this case is left with burn holes that recall paper discarded from a cap gun. In Abacist in Heat, the battle for supremacy between white, black, and blue paint gives way to blank canvas at the bottom corners of the composition, as if a storm lifting from the sky, leaving electrified clarity in its wake. Hanging in the back room of the gallery, Abacist in Heat, takes on an ethereal gravity that is complemented by the formidable personalities of five other large-scale works, including Backburn, whose sawdust-covered surface crackles with the heat emanating from a single orange line.

Less powerful are the smaller works on paper, which examine the birth of a monster – Frankenstein – at the hands of a modern-day Prometheus. Each work is named for the first word in the first five chapters of Mary Shelley’s manuscript. They are abstract renderings, like sells floating in a washed-out void, of the creature derived from film stills. While an examination of the Frankenstein myth fits neatly within the overall theme, the compositions lack the vitality and energy of Keyser’s other works, and are wisely left as side notes to the rest of the exhibition.

Brienne Walsh