Using Water as His Canvas, Kim Keever Creates Ethereal Images of Color in Motion

The abstract photographs of artist Kim Keever are almost like forces of nature. Colorful cyclones of pigment and light evoke violent explosions of energy: spewing lava, mushroom clouds, a building storm. But such powerful forces couldn’t be further from the artist’s surprising technique, one that takes an experimental—even playful—approach to watercolor.  

To create the works—which will soon be on view with Waterhouse & Dodd at PULSE Miami Beach—Keever begins with large tanks filled with water, which he carefully lights with colorful gels like a stage director. He used a similar technique in his early landscape-inspired photographs, for which he created detailed submarine worlds filled with model trees and sculpted terrain. For his abstractions, however, Keever looks to an entirely different medium: paint. Inspired by both the materiality and history of the medium, he drips paint from squeeze bottles into the water, photographing it as it disperses into clouds of pure color. 

With these abstractions, Keever manages to resist representation, while simultaneously calling to mind familiar tropes from the history of painting. An image like Abstract 6683 (2014) might immediately recall a delicate Dutch floral still life, while Abstract 10161(2014) seems to capture the organized chaos of a Renaissance ceiling fresco, filled with tumbling gods and putti. To find these moments amid the randomness of swirling, candy-colored bursts of water and paint, Keever captures a half-dozen images per set-up—he estimates he’s shot thousands for the series—cropping them afterwards to find compelling compositions. Often, he inverts the image so the colors seem to be growing upwards as opposed to sinking. 

Though the images are produced as printed photographs, the lyrical quality of the paint remains present in the finished works. While the material is a primary concern of the series, Keever chooses to work in photography, he has said, as a way to capture the movement of the sea and all its energy in a way the human mind could never pause long enough to reproduce on its own. 

Heather Corcoran

Visit Waterhouse & Dodd at Pulse Miami Beach 2014, Booth D17, Dec. 4–7.

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Additional images courtesy of the artist.