Fecal Face has been an anchor point of the San Francisco art scene for over a decade now, and they’ve experienced a rebirth of sorts – finally, some more square footage! – with their move to the Lower Haight. We’ll avoid the cliché that they’ve “risen like a phoenix” since, you know, a phoenix has to die first; and besides, the myth and magic to be found in the new Fecal Face Dot Gallery (FFDG) is courtesy of Josh Keyes, the first artist welcomed to their new space.

Keyes’ Magician’s Garden finds the painter conjuring up a mini menagerie of mutants and manipulations; whether they’ve been born to kill (The Cerberus Project) or born to die (Waking), in all cases they’re rather unholy beasts, made by man and not by god. Genetic manipulation is the main avenue pursued in these four new paintings: note Minotaur’s reference to ATG, the start codon of DNA, here literally represented as building blocks to be toyed with. Alive or dead, tortured or the tormentor, each stands as a testament to the dangers that await us if we can’t learn to leave well enough alone. The creatures exist in a world familiar to Keyes’ fans, one where the excesses of our civilization have become our downfall and only nature has survived. The only vestiges of mankind to be found are our litter, our graffiti, and in Writhing a worn, weary crash test dummy – itself a synthetic pretender to humanity, just a tool used to gauge the deadliness of our own creations. Josh has extended his commentary beyond his standard narrative as well, with The Cerberus Project illustrating in visceral detail one of the more ferocious ideas to have emerged from the illegal immigration debate.

Though his dominant theme of man’s abuse of nature is handled rather frequently, and in lesser hands would be trite or passé – especially in San Francisco, a city so eager to paint all things green – Keyes avoids those pitfalls. First, his obvious technical prowess forces the viewer to take his work seriously. The precision of his brush and the austere presentation of his ideas imbue the work with intelligence and solemnity. Second, and perhaps more importantly, his talents in communicating and the restraint in his commentary result in work that encourages interaction. This is discussion and not didacticism. Viewers at the Magician’s Garden opening engaged themselves in picking apart the paintings, unwrapping the work’s meaning and merit and picking out clues as if they were following a trail. The readability of Josh’s work makes for paintings that speak to you rather than preach at you. Somehow Keyes fosters that rarest of gallery environs: a place where people go to see rather than be seen.

By reinventing familiar arguments, further refining his prodigious technical skill, and coaxing his audience into meaningful conversation, Josh has wrought his magic like a, well, maybe there’s a wizard metaphor to me made here, but we’re avoiding “trite and passé,” remember? You can walk through Keyes’ garden of beautiful disasters through April 30, 2011.

by Chris McCreary for Warholian.com

For more on Josh Keyes and his show Magician’s Garden visit Fecal Face here: http://www.fecalface.com/SF/index.php/features-mainmenu-102/3004-josh-keyes-interview

For more on Josh Keyes and his art, visit his official site here: http://www.joshkeyes.net/

All photos by Michael Cuffe for Warholian.com