An indefinable reek of the rural hit you upon walking into Rosy Keyser’s recent show, ‘Promethean Dub’. It was a bit like finding yourself broken down by the side of a country road, in the pitch black without a torch, a small heartbeat amidst a teeming, invisible terrain. Indeed this dark (but never gloomy) show seemed almost too feral for the white walls of a pristine Chelsea gallery. Its powerful multi-layered abstractions would have been better served dangling from a tree’s branches, or staring up at you from a ditch, collapsed against a crumbling stone wall, or half-sighted in tall grass.
The show’s title references Prometheus, the semi-divine bringer of fire. But its content suggests that we, as mere mortals, are going to have to get down in the muck and work hard for total illumination. The awesome achromatic canvases in the first room exudedglimmers of a haunting, crepuscular light, which darted from the nothingness like farawaylightning. Tanzerin (Dancer, all works 2011) had spraypaint sparking like effervescent fungi on a dark forest floor. Similarly, in Coyote With Flash, a black and white line scurried along the unutterably black canvas, and off it into the distance, a shadow glimpsed running through the dark.
Keyser has previously referred to her style as ‘neo-Brut’, but it often seems more primal than even that half-joking name would suggest. Her canvases are so degraded that they become almost organic objects of their own, sloughing off their stretchers, unravelling into torn sails on which Keyser’s outsize ideas slowly resolve themselves through a carpenter’s cacophony of sawdust, nails, pine and house paint. The show’s reference to dub, with its stripped-back, repurposed beats looped and layered one on top of the other until an echo becomes an earthquake, is crushingly apt.
For Keyser’s paintings are junkyard magnets, attracting to them the flotsam of rural decay, and the artist wields an alchemic skill that transmutes these materials, if not into gold, then into an equally elemental substance. In Whistle Axis, for instance, a rusting metal garage door spattered with white paint has leaped onto the gallery wall, aping the shape of the other canvases and seeming to challenge the viewer to call it out. In Fleeting Gleam, a spattering of nails hammered into a pine board glimmers above a car’s wing mirror, the work of a mobile-home Galileo creating a barnyard constellation.
Indeed, as the viewer progressed through the show it was as if one’s night vision was finally resolving itself. Mooncalf dangled rope and jute from it like some farmland ectoplasm, pregnantly bulging out of the canvas, and revealing glimmers of rare copper deep within its folds. While Abacist in Heat shocked the vertical darkness with dashing horizontal smears of blue and white, that heralded something new and, perhaps, not quite as fearsome. In fact maybe it wasn’t that the viewer’s eyes were adjusting to the dark. Maybe it was just that they were witnessing the arrival of dawn.