All posts by Bob Keller


My daughter is getting married this coming Sunday. They are staying with us up until Saturday. I will be writing more about that later, but in the midst of all the social tidal wave crashing down I have been cut adrift. The happy couple are at the groom’s parents for dinner and the mother of the bride is out with some friends. So I decided since it was a beautiful evening I’d take a walk around the neighborhood. My usual route takes me along Bassett Creek in Northwood Park.

The East Bridge

The trail crosses the creek in two places on beautifully patinaed iron red bridges. The park is the flood plane of the creek and is the lowest area around, it’s very broad and open so you get a great view of the sky all around. As I was crossing the East bridge, I saw a little blue heron perching on a dead branch in the river, poised to make a meal of who ever came down stream. I was above it on the bridge so it didn’t notice me. I waited lone enough to see him nail a fish without leaving the branch, just a lightning stroke of the beak.

I headed home in the twilight. Felling blessed.

A rose by any other name.

Yesterday was the artist’s reception for my joint show with sculptor and glass artist James Tracey. It was a very successful show, we had a great turnout, and I had lots of fun conversations. I even sold a few paintings.

Hell is Empty and the Devils are All Here

The most commonly asked question or comment about the work was about the titles. In the past, I never really titled my abstract work. I’d name them things like “Abstract Number 3,” “Abstract with Green and Yellow, or sometimes “Untitled.” Is calling something “Untitled” actually giving it a title? In some circles the thinking is that abstract art should remain pure, with no context to it that gets between the viewer and the art. If you paint a mother and child in front of a window at twilight, staring lovingly into each other’s eyes the view is responding for the most part to the context, not the image as a purely visual experience. Titles can also influence the viewer’s perception of the work, get between the art and the viewer. Now I’m not saying that I subscribe to that school of thought. At least I don’t have a premium membership. I have the free budget plan.

When I started doing these latest paintings a couple of years ago, on a whim, I started giving them titles, and to be honest, I felt a little guilty about it. Like I was going against one of my beliefs about art, that representatives from the cult would come knocking on my door. That’s the kind of crap that comes to mind when you study this stuff in college. But then I started having some fun with it.

Folks asked how I come up with the titles. Various ways. Sometimes they just pop into my head when I’m working on them, like divine inspiration, not always having very much to do with the image itself. Other times there’s something that the image evokes, like a Rorschach test, and I base the name on that. In other cases, I’m stumped for a name. I spend too much time staring at the painting trying to pull some kind of an idea out of it. Sometimes I come up with a theme but can’t find the right words. Then I have a trick up my sleeve. Shakespeare. I look up Shakespeare quotes, sometimes using a keyword but often just scanning through lists until I have an “that works” moment.

I do have a concern that giving the work a title pushes the view into seeing the work a certain way, again getting between the viewer and the image. And although I’m not totally comfortable with that, people seem to have fun with it. I think the titles bring people into the work. When I watch people looking at art, I can tell the ones that just don’t get abstract. They just pass right by it, hardly giving it a look. If the title can make them stop for a second and try to figure out the reason for the title, I’ve pulled them into my schtick. Which is a good thing.

Let’s Talk About Me

Before I go much further into my thoughts about art I’ll tell you a little about what I’m doing with my art practice these days and where I come from as an artist. Yesterday someone asked me what my art background was. I’m afraid I rattled on for way too long telling my circuitous career story. I won’t bore you with that now, although I might bore you with it in a later post. I’ll just say I was that kid who drew all the time, my parents encouraged it and kept me in art supplies because it kept me still and quiet. They didn’t call it ADHD then. I majored in art in college and went on to work in just about every art related job from animation to zookeeper (I managed a group of designers). I retired from that management job in 2009 and have done some freelance design work since then. In 20017 I decided to start painting again, something I hadn’t done since the 80s. I cleared out a corner of my basement and set up a tiny studio and started slinging paint.

Right my work has a split personality. One side of that split is my representational work. I’ve been doing landscapes, portraits and still lifes in what I think of as an impressionist style. I use acrylic paint, and lately I’ve been using Golden Open acrylics for this style. I like them because they dry more slowly than standard acrylic paint so they can be pushed around and blended for a longer period of time, which really helps creating soft edges and smooth transitions.

This is one of my most recent landscape paintings

I don’t consider these to be the primary focus of my work. I enjoy doing them, I like the challenge of representational art and I also believe that the discipline involved really helps develop my ability to see.

The other half of this split personality is my abstract work. I’ve been interested in abstract art since I was in college. Much of the work that I did in college and in the early 70s was abstract. Then as now, the process is improvisational, I start making marks, look at what I have and respond to it with more marks. My current process involves putting down a thick impasto layer using Golden Heavy Gel Medium mixed with color and sometimes a little pumice to create texture. I often press objects into the wet gel to create different textural effects. Then I start working in layers, sometimes using opaque paint and sometimes glazing. Lately I’ve been sanding the surface to bring up colors from previous layers. I repeat the process until I’m happy with what I see. Sometimes I repeat the process until I’ve ruined the painting. There’s always a risk involved, I think a big part of creativity is not being afraid to try something, even though you know there’s a possibility that it’s going to be one step too far and you’re never going to be able to make it as good as it was before you took the leap.

One of my abstract pieces

That’s a little bit about what I’m doing right now, in the future I’ll be talking about individual pieces, problems and solutions, and what’s at the front of my mind in terms of my practice. More to come.

I Don’t Know Anything About Art, But…

Some time ago I set out to start writing about art. This creates a strange paradox for me. On the surface I should be well qualified to write about art. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil, I majored in art in college, I have a pretty broad knowledge of art history, and most of my work life involved art in some form or another. However, somehow I feel like I know nothing about art. I haven’t paid much attention to the fine art world for years, and I really struggle with understanding some of the avant garde trends of the last half century. Actually I couldn’t even come up with an example of current avant garde art. I am clueless about aesthetics and haven’t read a word of art criticism in probably half a century. I only darkened the door of the Walker a couple of times since they moved into the new building. I rarely go to galleries and I very rarely have a conversation about art. So that’s where I’m coming from as I start this endeavor.

So here’s the approach I’m thinking about. I will be spewing my thoughts about art in general. I’m also going to use this as a journal to record my thoughts about my art practice and feature some artists, contemporary and from the past, that I admire and that inspire me. And of course there will be a certain amount of shameless self promotion.

A long time gone.

It’s been over three years since I’ve posted here. It’s time to start writing again. I’ve been thinking about doing some writing about art. One reason for this strange urge is that I want to explore what I think about art, and I think about it a lot.

On one hand, I could be considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil. When I was very young, my parents gave me pencils and paper to keep me from drawing on the walls and in the margins of books. With my two siblings grown up and out of the house by the time I was five, I was virtually an only child. An only child with ADD, which of course no one had heard of at that time, so an only child who was just weird. I don’t think my parents really knew what to do with me. When they figured out I would spend hours silently drawing, my dad started bringing home typing paper and pencils from his office. Reams of typing paper and boxes of pencils. I would lay on the floor in front of the TV with a pad and pencil and silently draw rather than bounce off the walls and get into trouble. I know the television of the fifties from the audio, I wasn’t watching I was drawing.

I majored in art in college and when I graduated I tried to make it as an artist and a printmaker, but I really didn’t try very hard. In my twenties I had the perfect job for an aspiring artist, I tended bar at the Black Forest Inn, near the Art Institute and frequented by the local art crowd. I could get by on working 3 shifts a week so I had lots of time to develop my skills. But like so many things in my life, I was distracted by another obsession. I was addicted to pickup basketball, and I spent that time working on those skills. All I have to show for that is really bad knees. But that’s a different story.

I moved on to “commercial art.” In quotes because it’s an old term that folks in field absolutely hate. I plan to address the artificial divide between “fine art” and the applied arts. Something I’ve never quite understood.

I worked as an illustrator, an animation inbetweener (yes that’s a job title), a production artist, a newspaper layout artist, a graphic designer and unfortunately a manager of a group of artists. I say unfortunately, because I was the poster child for the Peter Principle, I sucked at management.

On the other hand I don’t know shit about art. I was at best a mediocre art history student. I’ve never read much about art theory or aesthetics. I do love museums and galleries and combing the internet for art of all kinds. But I can’t make any claim to being a critic or knowing anything about current trends in fine art.

So, this is the beginning of a series of posts about art. I’m not doing this to educate anyone but myself. Hopefully you won’t think it’s complete bullshit.


One of my favorite illustrations that I did for Computer User. Notice the hardware… it was a long time ago.

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to get paid for making art. Most of the time, I’ve been constrained by the needs of clients. I once had a gig doing highly rendered illustrations of grocery products for newspaper publication. I did them with stippling technique, building the values with tiny dots. I was pretty good at it but it was intensely boring and unsatisfying from a creative standpoint. Most of my work was editorial, illustrating articles for publication, which is a lot more creative, but the work is still directed by the content of the article.

I’m semi-retired now and have the freedom to create whatever want. WTF! What do I want to create?  Right now I’m getting in the groove doing small impressionist still lifes and landscapes. I’m enjoying the work and I’ve gotten good feedback, but I’m not so sure that’s the direction I want to go.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve gone pretty far down the abstract rabbit hole. I still want to explore that direction, with both digital and natural media.

But for now I’m enjoying the challenge of working with paint to make it do what I want and using color and value to express light. The discipline involved in this study brings a heightened awareness of the visual world. I notice color and form more intensely and from a new perspective.

For me it’s a form of meditation.


I’ve started painting again. It’s been years. I started painting when I was very young, I was one of those kids that drew all the time. When I was five or six I started drawing in the margins of books and on walls and any surface available. My dad started bringing home tablets of typing paper and boxes of pencils to keep the rest of the house free of my murals. I would lay on the floor and draw while I watched TV. More like listened to TV, most of those early shows from the fifties were more like radio for me. I’m sure they were glad to find something to keep me occupied, I’m pretty sure I had ADHD, but in those days they just called me a bratty kid.

I was maybe 12, my parents let me wander around downtown Moorhead by myself while I waited for a ride. Or maybe I rode my bike down there. Imagine that.  I was downtown  getting a haircut when I discovered that there was an art supply store across the street. I might have been an art supply store virgin. I found my toy store. That’s also the day I met James O’Rourke. One of, if not the most, influential people in my life. More about that later.

To make a long story, Jim soon had me coming to painting classes. I continued to paint through college, where I became focused on abstract art. I was interested in using repeated shapes from realistic drawings, reconstructing them into new compositions. I also experimented with an organic approach where I started randomly making marks and then building on them to create a composition.

I graduated from college with the intent of finding seasonal or part time work to support my art habit until it could sustain itself. I found the perfect job, but love and basketball intervened and I ended up dropping painting. When I started doing illustration I did a few mixed media pieces and some paintings, but didn’t really sustain the effort.

So I haven’t done any natural media painting for decades and now I’m starting up again. I’m trying to take an open minded approach, I’ve done both abstract and representational pieces, right now it seems like I’m more drawn to the representational. I’m going for an impressionist, alla prima schtick, although I have to admit I cheat on the alla prima part quite a bit. I’m not above going back in with some glazes to make adjustments to values and colors, but I won’t tell if you don’t .

I hope to be posting here regularly about my painting adventure, things I’m learning along the way, problems I’m mulling, and general observations about art. I hope a couple of people might find it mildly amusing.

What? Wheat!

I’ve been doing the acupuncture thing for about six weeks now with very little effect on my Crohn’s. However, two weeks ago my practitioner suggested I eliminate wheat from my diet. I agreed to try it, but she probably saw my eyes rolling. No bread? No cookies, donuts, twizzlers (that’s right twizzlers are full of wheat) and NO PRETZELS. If consuming wheat products actually is causing my gut problems, the fact that I was eating a half bag of pretzels every night might have been an issue.

But I’ve been avoiding wheat now for a couple of weeks and there was an almost immediate improvement in my condition. Plus the couple of times I fell off the wagon I noticed things got worse. I’m still having some problems, but I’m hoping over time things will continue to improve. I’ve also resumed taking turmeric and probiotics. Time will tell.

I did some research and found this article on the National Institute of Health website, it’s an overview of research on the inflammatory effects of grain and wheat consumptions. It’s a little difficult to wade through but has some eye opening information. And of course there’s Dr. William Davis and the “Wheat Belly Blog.”

There’s a lot of conflicting info out there of course. Katherine’s advice was to give up wheat, not gluten. She said barley, which contains gluten is probably OK. Some of the info I found recommends dropping of all kinds of grains, including corn. I’ve replaced pretzels with corn chips (I must have my salty snacks) and hamburgers with tacos without problems.

I’m on pins and needles

Just had my third acupuncture appointment. So I’m two weeks into the regimen. I haven’t really seen much improvement. Last week Katherine, my practitioner, tested some herbs on me so she could recommend an herbal blend to enhance the effects of the needle treatment. The test consisted of her putting various bottles of the herbal extracts on my stomach and taking my pulse to see how my body reacted. Then once she had determined the right blend, she placed one bottle at a time in my palm to judge the proportions of the mixture. I came away with an “intestinal health” blend to take five drops of four times a day and an anti cramping herb that I take when needed. She also recommended that I spend 15 minutes a day going barefoot in the grass. Really good for the spleen, I think she said.

I’ve gotten some new recommendations at each visit. The first visit was to not drink coffee first thing in the morning. I’m supposed to have the juice of a half lemon mixed with hot water and some protein before I can have coffee. This isn’t easy for a guy who is used making that first cup in a somnambulant state immediately upon getting out of bed. But I’ve managed to live through it. Another recommendation is to give  up ice cream. My first reaction to that was, “Wait, can I cut an arm off first?” You can sacrifice a lot for your health, but do you really want to live a life without ice cream? I’ve surprised myself and even stuck to that one.

When I told her that I hadn’t seen any improvement and that I was going to pull the trigger on the Humira treatment, she got a little defensive, saying that I needed to give it more time. You might say the effects are a little pokey. So I agreed that I would continue for six weeks and then evaluate.

Another interesting addition to my treatment is the insertion of little mini-pins in my ears that I am supposed to keep in for five days. She said they were really small and held in with adhesive that was colored so you can hardly see them. I’ll be interested to see what Becky says about that when she gets home.

So my adventure with alternative medicine continues. I really want to be able to get on the plane to Kauai in November without having to worry about using my “I can’t wait” card in the line for the toilet.


Call me the human pincushion.


Hey. It’s been awhile. The last post was on the health benefits of turmeric. I’ve been taking turmeric daily and have seen no improvement on the Crohn’s front.

A word of warning: One can’t really write about Crohn’s without writing about poop. There might be a good dose of TMI here on occasion, so if you’re offended or nauseated by scatalogical matters, read at your own risk.

I’ve been leaning more and more to just going the Humira route. I’m really miserable right now, constantly feeling crampy and having to run to the bathroom. One good thing is that the worst of it passes in the morning and I haven’t had to crap at work. The way our office is laid out and the lack of ventilation would probably result in me being asked to leave. There are a lot of unpleasant things about having Crohn’s, but the fact that you give off some incredibly nasty odors is among the worst.

I’m making one last effort to find an alternative treatment and avoid Humira and all the negatives associated with it. I’m taking a shot at acupuncture. I had my first appointment on Friday. It lasted two hours, starting out with a very thorough interview about my medical history. Then it was up on the table to have the needles inserted. It isn’t painful. Once the needles are in there is a period of time where you just lie there and let them do their thing, which I guess consists of getting your chi all adjusted. I kind of tranced out so I have no idea how long it was. When the practitioner returned she applied a ‘cold laser’ to my scars in order to release the energy that might be blocked by them (or something like that), it all feels very hocus-pocus to me.

I like the practitioner a lot. She also made a couple of interesting recommendations. Don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning. Eat something, preferably protein, first and also have a cup of warm lemon water. Then you can have your coffee. Also avoid peanut butter. Almond butter is much better. It should be, I stopped at the store on the way home to pick some up, it’s about four times the price of peanut butter. Maybe this isn’t a cheaper alternative to Humira.

I did come out of there feeling, well different. I definitely felt like my gut wasn’t as angry as it usually is, no crampy sensations. This continued until the next day. I woke up Saturday morning and experienced the usual multiple trips to the bathroom, but the proceedings didn’t seem as violent as before. And once the morning paroxysms were over, I felt really good all day.

But then something happened that made me start thinking about a completely different angle to this shit show. As we settled down for our evening boob tube session I set out to satisfy my craving for salty snacks with a bag of corn chips. As soon as I started eating them I started to feel crampy and I ended up spending the rest of the evening dancing with Doctor Crohn’s.* I did some research and it seems that some people have an intolerance to corn products, much like gluten intolerance. I’m going to see what happens if I start avoiding corn and corn syrup. I know, good luck with that!

I’m signed up for six weeks of acupuncture treatment, but if I don’t see some results in a couple of weeks, I might have to just bite the bullet and start up with Humira. I’m not sure how long I can last feeling the way I do, I must be losing weight and not getting proper nutrition.

I will keep you posted.

*I just made that euphemism up, I kind of like it.