Small is Big

Tim Kennedy Claw and Cone


An exhibit of paintings at Grunwald Gallery of Art, Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, Indiana University, Bloomington, featuring work by Catherine Kehoe, EM Saniga, Ken Kewley, Eve Mansdorf and Tim Kennedy. 
October 19 - November 16, 2012 
Small paintings that stand on their own – as a category distinct from painted studies – are capable of producing a powerful effect on viewers. Paintings done on small scale communicate intimacy. The viewer becomes intensely aware of his or her own space as well as the space in the painting. Viewing a small painting one can feel the contradictory sensations of nearness and distance experienced simultaneously. We see the artist’s hand in the marks on the surface of the panel or canvas that magically transform themselves at the same instant into a house or a flower – and then back again. It is an endless circuit that produces the hypnotic illusion of stopped time. 

Small is Big is intended to celebrate the virtues of painting on a small scale through the work of five of its practitioners – Catherine Kehoe, EM Saniga, Ken Kewley, Eve Mansdorf and Tim Kennedy.

Veracity and sincerity are also qualities that paintings of modest scale convey exceptionally well. Painting on a small scale implies the role of witness on the part of the artist and the ability to truthfully record the perceived world – but it is truth honed with feeling. Small works permit the pleasure of touch. Small scale allows the artist to vicariously caress the things he or she paints.

Since the invention of photography, the notion of bearing direct witness has become a blurred category for painters. After all, Courbet, the man who declaimed, “Show me an angel and I will paint one”, sometimes used photographs as a source for his paintings. Although both Kehoe and Saniga paint from life, both also on occasion refer to photographic sources. Kennedy and Mansdorf carry forward the tradition that works directly from the motif. Kewley uses the motif as a source of inspiration for brief, intense periods and as a point of departure for unknown destinations of formal invention on other occasions.

Catherine Kehoe draws on family snapshots to break down barriers of time, war and geography in order to gain entry to her family history from the Poland of the 30s and 40s. The figures, formally dressed yet strangely familiar, peer out at us across time. They seem to have as many questions for us as we have for them – who are you, what happened to you, where are you now? Her self-portraits and even her still life paintings seem to carry on with a hint of the inquisitional – but also afford opportunities for pleasure through an intense color pop or a passage of gestural painting.

Part of the fascination of the paintings of EM Saniga is the elusive quality of the work that forces the viewer to puzzle over what his source could actually be. Are we seeing a virtuoso bit of plein aire painting, an event recovered from memory, a film still – or a combination of the three? Not to mention the visceral response wrung from viewer through emotionally loaded subjects such as hunting dogs, pickup trucks and rural cemeteries.

Although small paintings are only one aspect of the work of Kennedy and Mansdorf, when painting on a small scale a viewer senses the importance each artist places on establishing a connection with a directly perceived motif in their paintings.

Eve Mansdorf’s images establish themselves from a slurry of paint. They seem to grow from the center of a form out – sometimes finding a contour and sometimes not. Seemingly haphazard arrangements of things and places gradually come into focus to reveal surprising psychological connections – a bra paired with a change cup and a swimming cap.

In Tim Kennedy’s work passages of softness are counterbalanced with the sharp edge of a window or an eave – perhaps reinforced with a pencil line. His preoccupation with the “how” of seeing is as important as the “what”. Houses, a flower, a shell all afford opportunities to see the familiar with new eyes.

Ken Kewley’s paintings take on so many different forms that they defy category. In addition to the strong modernist formal discipline that pervades Kewley’s sensibility, diminutive scale imposes a unity over his body of work. Whether it is the quickly painted and gestural treatment of a model disrobing or a Braque inspired riff from a landscape or still life, all of his work holds a deeply soulful color sense that radiates an interior glow.

— Tim Kennedy