Visual Arts - American gothic

Charles Keiger puts the drama in painting

Cross the iconic Americana of Grant Wood and Latin American magic realists, and you might come up with someone like Atlanta artist Charles Keiger. Keiger's darkly whimsical paintings feature cowboys, clowns and lovers acting out highly theatrical dramas against a mental landscape defined by windswept vistas and the occasional balloon animal. As Keiger says, "I like drama in a painting." And how.

Age 48. Two daughters, 16 and 11.

Education University of South Carolina, BFA; University of Georgia, MFA

Birthplace Asheville, N.C.

Neighborhood Grant Park.

Early art education I'd sit in my room and copy album covers. I had a TV tray and my parents bought me one of those John Nagy learn-to-draw kits when I was 10 or 8. I thought it was great.

Where would you live if you could live anywhere? Out West. I really like that sense of space. There's some kind of power in that.

Is there anything you're nostalgic for? I think everybody now is nostalgic for something simple; a simple lifestyle.

Last supper? All the potato chips I could eat.

Burn rubber or observe the speed limit? I'm a granny. My kids even tell me to speed up.

Last great art you saw? I just discovered this artist Robert Schwartz, a Bay Area artist. Even over the Internet I was like, 'That is good painting.' When I look at a painting, I look at it like, 'What can I learn? What can I steal, maybe?'

Favorite smell? Linseed oil.

Favorite historical figure? Martin Luther King Jr.

What artists do you admire? Magritte and Grant Wood.

Greatest fear? Having to take all this and start over somewhere else. I've got a nice family, I've got two kids I love to death. It's a good time for me. And anytime you have that, you have this other thing: I don't want to lose it, too.

What's your output? When it's going good, I can do 50 a year. And that's not counting works on paper.

Would you encourage your daughters to be artists? I don't think there's any way to stop somebody.

Advice to painters? Go to Europe. Spend about two years looking at great paintings.

What's on your TV? The Braves.

Is the guy in your paintings you? I think there's a lot of me in those guys. See the guy with the shirt on by the stone? I'm a hard worker and that guy looks like someone who works pretty hard. I don't think a lot people realize how much work goes into making your living as an artist.

Is there a Southern element to the work? Yeah. Someone mentioned that it's a humid atmosphere and the water is kind of stagnant looking. I think that's kind of Southern.

Do you create a narrative in your mind, for each painting? They're more iconic than narrative. I think of it more as building up the symbols.

Your greatest virtue? Punctuality. I'm a good dad.

Guilty pleasure? Trashy books. Nelson DeMille. It's like junk food, but it's kind of calming.

What's the one thing you couldn't live without? Radio.

Biggest complaint about the art scene? I've gotten to the point where if I'm going to complain, I need to look at what I'm doing to cause this. This business is so hard that if someone has found a way to do it that I don't really value, I don't look down on that anymore.


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