A sculptural work in “Found Life,” an exhibition by Ben Keating. COURTESY TRIPOLI GALLERY
Tripoli Gallery is presenting “Found Life,” its second solo exhibition with Brooklyn based artist Benjamin Keating. The show is on view May 28 through June 27, and the opening reception will take place on Sunday, May 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Wainscott gallery.
The relationship of the vessel to its volume is fundamental, but when the vessel holds a tree the balance of the interaction becomes more complex. The tree either outgrows its container, or the tree is pruned sufficiently to dwarf its growth and maintain an equilibrium. In other words, the relationship is not static, but dynamic, and it’s compelled by the conditions of the environment, which may be both natural (sun and rain) and cultural (clippers and saws). That the materials can be influenced, molded, encouraged to respond to the hand of the artist means that this relationship can be a sculptural one, and for Ben Keating, it is.
If there are two materials Keating understands with intuitive clarity, they would be molten metal and fertile soil. Keating is a person who operates a foundry and tends a garden; a person who teaches others how to work in a foundry and whose garden feeds his neighbors; a person who rescues saplings he finds covered in plastic, and a person whose home is the sum of what he’s built. When Keating talks about the fires of his furnace as he handles the delicate new buds on a tree that is more than two centuries old, you hear the kind of passion that only comes from a heady mixture of deep knowledge and limitless curiosity—a combination that rejuvenates itself endlessly.
In “Found Life,” Keating instinctively combines different species of trees with different types of metals. Like precious stones, the small trees are set in sculptures of containers. In one, the soft organic texture of a mossy mound at the base of the tree is accentuated by the shine of aluminum that surrounds it. In another we’re transfixed by the way the sculpted metal frames a small pine. Resulting in a discovery and a surprise, Keating’s recent body of work feels cohesive and interconnected as it simultaneously achieves tremendous variety.
Some of the forms Keating casts are domestic — a pair of old sneakers, now bronze — but mostly he is piecing together crude shapes to create different structures of ranging complexity. How these shapes correspond and establish a sense of balance with the verticality of the tree is a measure of Keating’s material intelligence and aesthetic sensibility. In a sense then, the natural world is Keating’s collaborator, for its energies are responsible for the tree’s very being, and by extension those energies imbue the sculpture. Because Keating is working with something that lives, his sculpture requires attention, care, and — importantly — being touched.
To create a work of art that compels an obligation to conservation is to instill it with an intimacy that is needed in this day and age. It pushes against the basic expectations of contemporary art even as it aligns itself with the values from which much contemporary art has emerged. It is radical work, forged in fire, grown by the sun, and to be nurtured by the hands of one who will cherish it.
Tripoli Gallery is at 26 Ardsley Road in Wainscott (enter via East Gate Road). Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., closed Tuesday. For more information, visit tripoligallery.com or call 631-377-3715.
One fine body…