People often talk about how a painting is 'constructed', but Erin O'Keefe's colourful, abstract still lifes are literally built.
Often mistaken for paintings, her works are in fact photographs, created by a practice encompassing architecture, model making and installation art. The pictorial space is a physical space in which O'Keefe arranges colourfully painted, carved or sawn geometric wooden shapes and panels, and then photographs them.
Born in 1963, O’Keefe, whose creations were shown in the exhibition 'Ways of Seeing Abstraction – Works from the Deutsche Bank Collection' at the PalaisPopulaire in Berlin in 2021 and to whom Deutsche Bank dedicated a solo presentation at its Frieze New York client lounge in 2022, has developed an art form all her own.
Inspired by perspectives spanning centuries
The step from three- to two-dimensionality, and the play with surface, colour and form, cleverly lead the viewer astray and trigger an array of associations. O'Keefe's images recall the abstract painting of classical modernism, cubism and surrealism. They have a playful, theatrical quality; a graphic, illustrative effect, giving the impression that the image has been reworked and manipulated, or created digitally. The combination of different art forms and techniques is inspired by the ideas of the Bauhaus, especially the colour theory of Josef Albers, which deals with the spatial effect of colour. At the same time, O'Keefe is fascinated by the deceptive spatial perspective of early Renaissance paintings.
Evolution from architect to artist
Her engagement with painting is closely linked to other disciplines. First, O'Keefe graduated from Cornell University with a degree in printmaking. She went on to earn a master's degree in architecture and taught for 23 years. During this time, she was already creating cubist-inspired sculptures in her New York studio, which she began to photograph – with such success that in 2014 she gave up her original profession and devoted herself entirely to her artistic career.
The sophistication she has developed in the process is evident in works such as 'Bluebell' (2021), in which O'Keefe models shape and colour in an almost musical interplay between sculpture and painting. But what looks so effortless is the result of long experimentation, as O'Keefe explains: "My studio process is quite open-ended, lots of trial and error. Small shifts or alignments in the still life can transform the reading of the image, and that moment feels like magic to me.”
About this article series
This article forms part of a special series celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs, taking a closer look at one of 20 artists we have collaborated with and whose work features in the Deutsche Bank Collection.
Deutsche Bank's commitment to art and culture
Deutsche Bank is the Global Lead Partner for Frieze art fairs, with 2023 marking the 20th year of the partnership. As part of its Art & Culture commitment, Deutsche Bank has supported and collected the work of cutting-edge, international artists for more than 40 years. A global leader in corporate art programmes, the bank also runs an Artist of the Year programme, as well as its own cultural centre in Berlin, the PalaisPopulaire. All initiatives are based on the strong belief that engagement with art has a positive impact, not only on clients and staff but also on the communities in which the bank operates. Thus further collaborations such as the Deutsche Bank Frieze Los Angeles Film Award in the United States, The Art of Conversation in Italy, the Frieze x Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship in the United Kingdom, and the digital platform Art:LIVE, create access to contemporary art for people all around the world. Discover more here.
Main image: Erin O’Keefe, 'Bluebell', 2021 (detail) Unique archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag mounted to aluminium © Courtesy of the artist and Seventeen Gallery, London
Deutsche Bank Art & Culture