jon key’s paintings explore ‘mythologies’ of identity

February 19, 2019
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In his exhibition Violet: Mythologies and Other Truths, artist Jon Key deftly explores the relationship between agency and self-actualization through a strict color palette, form, memory, and autobiographical truth-telling. Key pulls from his own story, and uses the colors green, black, violet and red to poetically represent a selfhood grounded in Southernness, Blackness, Queerness and Family, respectively.

Jon Key, “Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 5” (2019), Acrylic on Paper 56 × 42 in

As a suite of paintings, the work may call to mind the early inventive portraiture of artist Jeff Sonhouse or echo the tactile eclecticism of Chris Ofili. Although Key’s pieces are quieter in volume, his rhythms are unmistakable. Graphic shapes and a collage-like sensibility (made by layering acrylic paint) imbue the work with a sense of depth and fertility, despite the fact that Key treats the paintings’ spatial planes as, essentially, flat.

Jon Key, “Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 2” (2018), Acrylic on Paper

While the compositional relationships of the colors are full of energy and vitality, the constraints of Key’s two-dimensional frames — emphasized by the neck contortions of the Black man within them — reveal the limits and challenges of outside forces. Abstracted landscapes reminiscent of Key’s rural upbringing in Alabama, further conflate simultaneous feelings of vastness and limitation.

Jon Key, “Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 4 (Kneeling)” (2018), Acrylic on Paper, 53 × 42in

However, Key’s use of the color purple within the paintings moves beyond the frame into the realm of cosmic consciousness. It seems to highlight the relationship of the human form to the earth, and how the evolutionary movement around questions of gender and sexuality are at the center of new vantage points on what it means to be both spirit and body.

Jon Key, “Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 6 (Self-Baptism)” (2019), Acrylic on Paper, 66×32 in

Jon Key’s Violet: Mythologies and Other Truths is on view at Manhattan’s Rubber Factory Gallery til March 17th.