The Healing Arts: Saratoga Artist David Keenan’s Stunning Works Came To Life After A Personal Tragedy
After the death of his wife, the Spa City-based artist threw himself headlong into his craft. And the results are simply breathtaking.
The painting, 'Serenity,' on display at Yaddo. (David Keenan)
I value transparency. My favorite people tend to be those who easily reveal things about themselves without much thought to holding back. I found local artist David Keenan to be one of those people when we chatted about his distinctively high-energy works. From capturing the drama of horse racing and portraiture to a twist on patriotic themes, Keenan’s style is a celebration of saturated color and exaggerated scale. “I put everything I can into painting,” Keenan says. “I take risks—I’ve got nothing to lose. I want to be 100 percent satisfied that I gave it everything I could.”
It was personal loss, however, that ultimately brought him to this confident, creative place. Keenan describes how the untimely death of his wife had him reeling for years—but how throwing himself headlong into his work became cathartic, and ultimately, led to a creative rebirth. “I had the perfect life, and then the world just stopped,” he says. “Art was the one thing that got my head straight. I’m finally in a good place, and I think that shows in my work.”
Keenan maintains that his favorite piece is always the one he’s working on, but after some light prodding, he admits that he’s partial to Remembrance, a painting of a jockey who prevailed in a race he wasn’t supposed to win (see gallery above). “The odds were something like 30 to 1 against him,” says Keenan. “He’s looking up, with his hand to his face, as if to acknowledge someone who had passed. I found it to be very powerful.”
As a child, Keenan would accompany his father and siblings to Saratoga Race Course, but placing bets wasn’t what wound his clock. “There was always so much to look at: the colorful jockey silks, the horses and so much history,” he tells me. These days, he pops into town as often as possible to see his friends Rebecca Kane and Sharon Castro of AMP Galleries and Mike Marino of Gallery5one, all of whom display his work, and are always encouraging him to get into his studio to cook up more brilliance. He’s clearly been following their advice. “When I work on a piece, I look at it more than I paint on it,” he says. “I hang it up so I can stare at it, then I go back and work on it.” He then asks playfully: “Ever hear that expression, ‘a painting’s never really done?’ For me, it’s done.”