The Body Elastic: Erika Keck at envoy enterprises

Over the course of her young career, Erika Keck has been steadily minimizing canvas (or other traditional backing) in her paintings, composing instead with long, sticky-shiny stripes of acrylic paint, draped across stretcher bars or other structures. Keck unleashes her physical process in Limp, her latest foray at envoy enterprises on the Lower East Side.   — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Erika Keck | Connection, 2013, acrylic paint, linen, wood panel, 35 x 16 inches. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

Obvious figuration is absent in Limp, beyond two smallish wood panels bearing gooped-up studio detritus and paint entitled Face. However, instances of Francis Bacon physicality (whom Keck notes as an influence) — and particularly Chaim Soutine's brand of skinned stylizing — flash in and about this suite of new works. I'm thinking in particular the disquietingly fleshlike central section of Bound, framed by yellowed stripes of acrylic paint like a burn victim's bandages. Or the warped, lopsided “paint tarp” Surface (Before Dark), which hovers between an AbEx sunset and a highly magnified wound. In a 2010 interview around her show rough trade at NP Contemporary, Keck commented that she “love[s] that tension between something being beautiful and grotesque at the same time. It creates a dance between the viewer and the work of art where they're being pulled in and pushed away at the same time.” By zooming in on fragmented bodily surrogates, Keck dials this push-pull vibe way up. Some of her new compositions may seem “icky”, but their laborious craft and tactile surfaces make them rather seductive. Plus, considering funky iconoclast Amy Sillman's recently opened museum retrospective (Amy Sillman: one lump or two, at ICA/Boston), this calibre of bodily abstraction is all the more relevant.

Erika Keck | Surface (Before Dark), 2013, acrylic paint, wood stretcher bars, metal pipe, 79 x 64 x 8 inches. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

Erika Keck | Limp installation view, September 12 – October 20, 2013. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

Untitled (Hole) and its kindred Connection are standouts. The former, used in envoy's promotional materials ahead of the exhibition opening, resembles a puckered white orifice textured by thin white strips of acrylic paint, each painstakingly hand-applied in a frozen burst out of the composition's central hole. Connection could be a mouth or wound spilling lipstick-red blood out its slashed linen backing. Keck noted that she was particularly interested in the “drip” and the end of the dripping paint, and the compositional decisions that arose from it. Despite their accumulated paint, her ritual of portioning out dripped acrylic in measured, toothpaste-like bands keeps this duo relatively light and intimate, devoid of the hanging mass in Blind and other thickly-striped constructs. It's like comparing Richard Serra's classic vulcanized rubber Belts to the laser-precise beads of a welder's torch.

Erika Keck | Untitled (Hole), 2013, acrylic paint on wood panel, 12 x 12 x 2 inches. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

Erika Keck | Limp installation view, September 12 – October 20, 2013. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

Keck is very successful in playing with the illusion of weight in Surface (After Dark), a giant nori wrapper of blackish acrylic paint draped over bare stretcher bars. The paint bulges in long horizontal striations, like it used to be folded up before installation, and the entire surface is crisscrossed by wrinkles of a desiccated landscape. On the one hand, the paint's thickness and structural softness resembles a black thermal blanket, yet simultaneously this sheet of paint has the crispy countenance of a weather-resistant tarp. Either way, it signals protection: an enveloping shell of media, sheltering the absent figure from some harsh climate. In the artist's words, “I try not to overthink the differences between abstraction and figuration, or at least think of them as opposing ideas. Even though there's more apparently abstract-looking works in this show, I still think of the paintings as relating to the figure. I think the more abstract paintings accomplish that by use of metaphor, and I've also been thinking more about the way people hide themselves or create boundaries (or privacy) through things like (venetian) blinds, clothing, curtains...” In its position at the front of the gallery, Surface (After Dark) presents a distinct comfort within this corporeal collection.

Erika Keck | Surface (After Dark), 2013, acrylic paint, wood stretcher bars, 64 x 64 inches. Courtesy the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

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Erika Keck (b. 1976; Albuquerque, NM) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She studied at the University of New Mexico. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and cultural institutions in New York, San Francisco, and Albuquerque. Limp continues through October 20.

Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.

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