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October 2011: Profile: Ryan Keeley founder of The Keeley Gallery

Keeley painting. courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

The Keeley Gallery
352 Bowery
New York, NY 10012

Ryan Keeley isn’t narcissistic; he’s candid and straight-up old-school. A normal day consists of “waking up, having the morning to [himself], listening to music, rolling a joint, collecting his thoughts.” After lunch, he heads to his studio for the “real work at night.”

At only 29, Mr. Keeley runs his self-entitled gallery and studio on Bowery between Great Jones and 4th Streets. When asked how he feels about his image as a gallery owner who shows mainly his own artwork, he responds that The Keeley Gallery naturally grew from a storefront studio this past June to a place to hang “his works around events or parties.”

The space at 352 Bowery, across from the Bowery Hotel, not only attracts attention but also has been made for it. Keeley provides us with artistic goods gone rad: romps in the studio, conversations with the artists, vodka bars, surfboards in NYC. Sit in The Keeley Gallery for over one hour and you most likely meet a sick skateboarder, a bum who has smoked too much PCP, and enumerable artists. They act as main players in events, which Keeley orchestrates by combining all arts. Keeley dislikes month-long exhibitions and prefers three-day to week that change daily while occasionally resurrecting longtime party fixture Roxy Cottontail or promoting the non-profits such as Ocean Lifeline.

Keeley, Altered Angels 2011 courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

While Bowery accrued galleries quickly after Chrystie Street, the area had paralleled NYC’s non-Chelsea art scenes with a dense population of fad followers. On June 1st of this year, Ryan Keeley’s gallery was the first to expel expectations. Though Keeley hadn’t set out to challenge Chelsea, he grew The Keeley Gallery as organically as his past.

In the middle of 1982 Maryland blizzard, Keeley was born in the hallway of a packed hospital, where doctors used a trashcan as a cradle due to lack of supplies. If that weren’t traumatizing enough—Keeley’s family was airlifted to a larger hospital for an emergency surgery after Keeley had been diagnosed with Duodenal Obstruction. Beginning with a bang, Keeley continued to succeed in Raleigh, NC, where he spent his adolescent years.

Surrounded by artists, Keeley painted since a young age. His high-school art instructor Bob Rankin taught Keeley the fundamentals of painting, and Keeley begun to live as an “artist” using psychedelics as a medium to develop his media. Since 15, he produced enumerable commercial pieces that enticed NYC corporations. Thus Keeley dropped out of Appalachian State University, NC, after a month as well as School of Communication Arts, NC.

Keeley, Breakthrough Mural, 2011

After “college” Keeley moved to Outer Banks of North Carolina, painting on surfboards and working surf industry odd jobs. Inherently-nomadic, Keeley next moved to Costa Rica with a couple friends who had a studio. There, Keeley perfected his calm demeanor through a visual exercise, led by a shaman, in which Keeley developed a symbol standing for him. Tattooed inside his right wrist, his icon represents “the intense wave of energy in physical and metaphorical form.” Keeley meditated on off-balanced symmetry to depict a wave-like structure that when vertically divided down the middle rendered two images with the same mass yet not mirroring each other. Presently, his symbol doubles for his logo.

In 2009, he had been in North Carolina for two years after his fling in Costa Rica and was offered a nice gig in New York City. Keeley had envisioned living in NYC, yet he never fussed over how he would get there. Staying on West Broadway and Houston for a two-week experimental printing project, Keeley received more offers and inevitably remained there for another year and a half. Alas, Keeley had been working with architecture and design firm StudiosGO, where he cultivated a collection of personal works that no longer fit in his Soho apartment. He reached out to a friend to contact Ozymandius Realty about a proper artist’s studio. When he opened the gate to 352 Bowery, Keeley fell in love and scrapped up each dollar that he had.

                                                                     Keeley, Love, mixed media courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

The Keeley Gallery is different (a difficult adjective to insert into the artworld). The artist is the dealer is the commercial designer is the art handler is the maintenance is the registrar is the skateboarder is the et cetera. Using his studio as a “gallery” to exhibit his own work, Keeley blurs distinction between studio and professional visit.

While Keeley’s main focus remains filling the space with his own pieces, still he isn’t opposed to showing other artists, whom he respects, and successfully has curated group shows. Keeley sold nearly eighty percent of “up-and-comer,” as well as Gagosian art handler, Sam Stabler works that had been on view for only a week. Keeley and Stabler had met through mutual friend Max Teicher during a late-night gathering and skateboarding. After befriending Stabler, Keeley casually hung his friend’s new work on a wall. Keeley has a penchant for relying on happenchance.  

The Black Gold photo shoot courtesy Keeley Gallery New York

Currently, Keeley prepares his fall line-up. He plans to have Wednesday night soirees to show his work but always hosts gallery goers when he has opened the gate. As for larger events, Kate Nauta will release a new album, for which Keeley will shoot and create art direction for marketing material in late September or early October. Additionally, Keeley and Nauta will collaborate on a few pieces of fine art work and live performance. Later this autumn, Keeley plans to announce a new show featuring large-scale paintings that exhibit a more introspective body of abstracted and emotive works.

Personally, Keeley concentrates on paint. Thriving off his environment, he acts as “a conduit and rep of that energy to express all different elements that encompass daily life” on Bowery. His current works combine experimental printing—hand distress canvas and emotive paint layers—with photography; Keeley takes apart a Giclee printer and manipulates the machinery. Although his works vary among sculpture and paint on found objects (discarded mannequins, wooden doors from the garbage, surfboards and women’s bodies), most portray provocative images of female models dripping acrylic, self mixed inks, enamels, chemical mixes and washes. Often Keeley collaborates with fashion photographers for an original photograph of model.

Busy 24/7, Keeley fixates on his gallery as an outlet to his creating event design to showcase alongside the “best artists and musicians in the world.” Beyond Bowery, international institutions and art implementations into global marketing campaigns interest him. All appears to be lining up for him. “Making art, surfing, snowboarding, Montauk, and chilling with model chicks,” nonetheless, top Keeley’s lists of activities making him “so happy” at the moment; that is, if he has a free moment to spare.

Keeley in the painting studio space courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

Keeley with visual symbols tatoo, photo by Bradley courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

Keeley Gallery, courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

Keeley Gallery, courtesy Keeley Gallery, New York

Keeley Gallery, courtesy Keeley Gallery, New

Megan Garwood

Megan M. Garwood graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, receiving a Bachelor of Arts concentrating in the History of Modern Art with a minor in Ethical Analysis and Morality. Once in New York City she paid her dues as a gallery girl, first at Bjorn Ressle Fine Art and next at Marlborough Chelsea. For the past three years she has worked as an Arts and Culture freelance writer for multiple international publications. Each morning she still asks herself if she feels more like a urinal than a work of art, only because “R.Mutt” is scrawled across her left shoulder.

Contact: mmgarwoo@gmail.com
Portfolio: http://meganmgarwood.blogspot.com/

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