Night Paintings

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Red Pickup, 2009 Oil On Canvas 18" X 28" © Tom Keough
Sixth Avenue Snow, 2003 Oil On Canvas 24" X 36" © Tom Keough
February Night, 2004 Oil On Canvas 14" X 11" © Tom Keough
Connie, December Night, 2004 Oil On Canvas 14" X 11" © Tom Keough
Snowy Night, 2002 Oil On Canvas 30" X 40" © Tom Keough
March Night, 2004 Oil On Canvas 18" X 24" © Tom Keough
Sycamore, 2005 Oil On Canvas 28" X 22" © Tom Keough
Chimney, 1997 Oil On Canvas 16" X 24" © Tom Keough
Road Light, 2004 Oil On Canvas 30" X 18"
Sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue , 2001 Oil On Canvas 39" X 48" © Tom Keough
Food Delivery, 2009 Oil On Canvas 18" X 24" © Tom Keough
Red Car, 2009 Oil On Canvas 16" X 20" © Tom Keough
Autumn Night, 2009 Oil On Canvas 24" X 30" © Tom Keough
Night Paintings

90 West Broadway at Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
April 22nd, 2009 - August 31st, 2009
Opening: April 22nd, 2009 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

by appointment
landscape, figurative


Shannon Egan

The Gettysburg Review

Winter 2007

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Bright Lights on Quiet Streets:

Tom Keough’s Nocturnes

The well-kept city streets lined with trees and old brownstones may seem familiar

in the paintings of Brooklyn-based artist Tom Keough, but the neighborhood is

disquietingly empty. Keough situates the sidewalk in the immediate foreground

of his paintings and compels the viewer to enter into an eerily vacant scene. With

few exceptions, Keough leaves the always still and sometimes snowy New York

setting largely unoccupied. Nonetheless, Keough conveys human presence in his

paintings with the soft glow of lamplight from windows, footprints in the snow,

and cars parked along the side. The theme of urban alienation—a paradoxical

sense of loneliness felt in the midst of dense population and bustling activity—has

been examined by Keough’s art-historical predecessors, such as Edouard Manet,

Edgar Degas, and perhaps most consistently by Edward Hopper. Whereas these

painters frequently employed various urban types (shop girls, entertainers, office

clerks) lost in thought to evoke a sense of estrangement and inward reflection,

Keough remarkably conveys similarly absorptive emotional states without such

figural intervention.

Although the cityscapes appear abandoned, the viewer expects and possibly

desires to find someone turning a corner or standing in a window. The footprints

in January Night (2003) lead the viewer to such a figure. Small and almost ghostly,

a little girl stands quietly next to a tree in the far background of the painting. The

light cast by the streetlamp is impossibly intense and sets the girl in silhouette.

The bright warmth of this artificial glow contrasts with the cold snow and mid-

night blue of the sky above. One envisions walking toward the girl in a calm that is

antithetical to the usual cacophony of the city. Keough depicts the few hours after

a recent snowfall, when neighbors stay warm indoors, before the roads have been

plowed and the sidewalks shoveled, and nature momentarily overcomes the hur-

ried hum of the city. The steady drone of the streetlamp and the crunching of

snow implied by the footprints are the only interruptions to the sublime stillness

in the painting.

Keough’s painting Sycamore Tree (2005) again examines a markedly absent street, and one continues anxiously to search along stoops and behind trees for

other inhabitants. Following the diagonal lines of the sidewalk and the fence in

Sycamore Tree, the viewer’s eye finally arrives at another shadowy figure standing

in a glowing doorway. Here, too, Keough interrupts the darkness of night with

the harsh, artificial illumination of the streetlamp. Although Keough places the

lamppost directly in the center of his composition, the source of light in Sycamore

Tree comes dramatically from outside the painting. A city’s glut of artificial light

prevents the night from becoming dark, and Keough takes care to distinguish the

subtle lamplight from within from the brazen fluorescence of the outside. The

navy sky, however, seeps stubbornly through the top edges of the buildings and

branches. The gnarled tree trunk in the foreground of the painting, lit harshly by

this neighboring streetlamp, leans ominously to the right and casts a shadow that

interrupts the viewer’s stroll along the sidewalk.

The presence of long shadows at night is not the only unnatural element, as the streetlamp in Sycamore Tree, enveloped by leaves from the neighboring trees, also

appears to be a stylized and pseudo-organic tree trunk. Keough’s paintings do not

necessarily evoke a disconcerting tension between natural and man-made land-

scapes; rather they assert a precariously symbiotic relationship among natural

and architectural elements in older urban neighborhoods. Keough draws formal

parallels between vertical trees and lampposts, but the calligraphic branches also

resist the order of the geometric facades of buildings in paintings such as 11th

Street, 29 (2001) and Webster Place Tree (1998). And, in Sycamore Tree the place-

ment of the tree in the foreground functions as a kind of liminal space between

the natural and man-made, as flowers mediate the rectilinear grid of the sidewalk

and the irregular, gnarled bark of the trunk.

Keough’s paintings most noticeably recall Hopper’s in their evocation of a

pensive urban narrative as well as in their careful study of the e√ects of artificial

light along almost abandoned streets. Keough’s paintings are not simply city-

scapes, but are careful meditations on unlikely and infrequent moments of soli-

tariness and quiet in otherwise crowded neighborhoods. Hopper similarly cap-

tured this preternatural calm of an urban street in Early Sunday Morning (1930).

Where Hopper o√ered a careful study of morning sunlight raking across the

building facades, Keough attends to a more complicated study of the effects of

light—both natural and artificial, as well as from interior and exterior sources—in

his paintings. Ultimately, Keough paradoxically and successfully paints seemingly

uncanny nocturnes of a quotidian neighborhood that is at once familiar and

strange, inhabited and isolated.