By Meredith Fife Day

In Catherine Kehoe’s paintings, the elusive nature of seeing becomes both the subject and the engagement with how to see. Fully developed formal visual relationships, passages and rhythms lend life and nuance to every aspect of every painting.
The choice of representational subject is both practical and personal. Kehoe paints self-portraits because she is “there.” She paints object-occupied spaces – almost always interior – because they are nearby. She honors her ancestors through discovered photographs, and acknowledges historic painting through painted study of its form and structure. These paintings, especially the ones “after” a painter who has come “before,” offer a glimpse into the continuum of time that the show’s title implies.
If there is a theme that unites the Before and After of this exhibit, it is the constancy of observing and responding what is before the eye of the painter. She begins by paying attention, then, without preconception, lets form determine the way to say something that can be said only through painting.
Often, the time it takes Kehoe to make a painting and the time we spend in front of it are in sharp contrast to the moment of and in the painting – a transfixing yet transitory light and a clarity of order that will change with the next moment. The exquisite tension of a stretch of pink ribbon held by a bow at the waist on one end and a larger bow holding in a billowing sleeve on the other is but a moment in After Rubens. The arm will be nudged. The painter’s stance will shift. Tension holds the moment.
A slight change in the dimensions of the 6x6-inch painting, or of Kehoe’s selected detail from Rubens, could change the energy to stasis and the order to disorder. Prolonging that energy becomes one with her visual acuity in bringing the essence of what is before her to specificity, to identity.

At 8x6 inches, Self-Portrait with Cardboard Box is one of only two portraits exhibited that is off the square. The standing pose in a full length mirror is centered, boldly reiterating the vertical orientation of the panel substrate. Other than the open cardboard box at the base of the mirror, the planar shapes within and around it can be identified only as abstract shapes, reminding us that in Kehoe’s fine orchestration of color, shape, tonal change and light, any distinction between representational and abstract is beside the point.
The shapes hint at discernment in process and omission. Their background dance is restrained, clearly supporting the strong figure, yet enlivening the space and surface they inhabit. They function as credibly in the foreground of Cyclamen with more assertive hue, and in the enigmatic space of Delicate Situation.

Size and proportion also contribute to integrity of form in the ways these always-small individual paintings are put together. Nothing is gratuitous. Intention is traced back to attention. Singular and arresting, the paintings compel the viewer to stay with them, to experience them – and, following the artist’s lead – to observe and respond.
Meredith Fife Day is a painter and writer. She is an advocate for equitable access to the arts and to education in the visual arts.