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Q&A with Award-Winner Miriam Keeler

Have you been to The Art League Gallery yet to see this month’s all-media show and the solo show “Microcosms”? We’ll be bringing you interviews with the award winners from the September group show, starting with Miriam Keeler. The juror awarded the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award for best in show to Buona Fortuna, Miriam’s narrative, non-linear oil painting. We asked Miriam to tell us more about the piece and her work in general.

“Buona Fortuna” by Miriam Keeler.

How would you describe Buona Fortuna?
Miriam: My goal was a narrative painting in a contemporary and non-linear format.

What was the inspiration or motive behind the painting? Are specific places, people, or events depicted?
The painting was inspired by an experience my husband and I had several years ago in Italy. We made a wrong turn trying to get to our hotel in Florence, ending up in the dumpster/garbage area of a large very low-income high rise area. A Gypsy couple was busy dumpster diving, loading finds into their vehicle. We got out of our car to ask directions. Following the woman’s instructions, we ended up at our Florence hotel, where my husband quickly discovered that he did not have his wallet. There was no place it could be but back with the Gypsies. By what could only be a miracle we found our way back to the dumpsters—the couple was still there, although the husband was now sitting in their vehicle. When I asked her if they had seen the wallet she said no. For some reason I dropped to the ground and started crawling through the grass in a dramatic act of looking for the wallet. Before long she joined me crawling around looking.

After some minutes our eyes met and I asked her, “Do you think your husband could have picked up the wallet while you were busy ‘working’ at the dumpster?” Her eyes lit up, she went to their car and got in, and started shaking her fists at her husband and yelling at him. Before long he reached into his coat pocket and fished out the wallet. She brought it over to me. Overjoyed I opened it and commented on how happy I was that all of his ID documents were in the wallet, even though all of the money was gone. She asked me how much money there had been, returned to the car and started shaking her fists and yelling at her husband again. Little by little he fished into his pocket and pulled out Euro notes, until she had in hand the amount I had mentioned. She brought it over to me, I thanked her profusely, and we each went on our way. (I was helped by the fact that I could speak Italian.)

Do you have any thoughts on what it’s been like to start entering exhibits?
I started entering shows in earnest at the Art League last fall and have continued to enter pieces when I have them, assuming they fit in with the show theme. In my previous professional life I was a college professor and then a consultant in Washington with no thought of “doing art.” But after 10 years of effort, I am not really new to painting; just new to exhibiting my work. I was not particularly motivated to show my work in the past; it has turned out to be a lot of fun, much more enjoyable than I had imagined.

What draws you to painting and to oil paints? Do you work in other media?
I work in pastel and gouache, as well as oil. I enjoy the feel of oil and the wonderful colors.

How did you arrive at the painting style(s) used in this piece?
It just happened, although I’ve done a couple of other pieces in a similar style since. I was not thinking consciously about style as I painted. In the process of working on the canvas, ideas about how to handle various aspects of the story and the way or “style” of presenting it seemed to emerge together.

Is Buona Fortuna part of a series or ongoing project?
I do a lot of series, but this painting is a stand-alone.

What’s your creative process like?
I have lots and lots of ideas for paintings. Sometimes I make a few very loose sketches, but usually I just start painting, developing the composition, palette, etc. on the canvas as I proceed. I do not think my approach is the best way to proceed, but if I engage in heavy-duty planning I never get to painting.

What would you like the viewer to come away from the painting with?
You have to look at the painting and puzzle about it for a while if you don’t already know the story. I would like for the viewers to have a bit of enjoyable puzzlement, and perhaps a chuckle or two. Maybe they will never figure out what it is about, but that does not matter all that much.

The opening reception for the September exhibits is tonight, 6:30–8:00 pm, with awards presented at 7:30 pm. We hope to see you there! The September All-Media Exhibit and “Microcosms” run through October 1.

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