Keegan Monaghan: Artist of Intellectual Horrors

A surrealism painting featuring a pocketwatch with a human face inside it.

An example of surrealism art.
Image: Shutterstock

Keegan Monaghan is a 29-year-old from Chicago who knows his hometown history. His painting style is strongly borrowed from the Chicago Imagists, those painters from the 1960s who were known for grotesqueries and surrealism (and who inspired the art of MAD Magazine). Monaghan has brought their brand of weighted art forward into the Millennial generation with his vivid, slightly disturbing oils.

“My Place” is a painting of his that mimics this type of style—the viewer sees a living room of bright oranges and soft shapes through two aligned portholes. Are we seeing through a pair of eyes or a virtual reality headset or some amalgam? Seen in the right mood, it can be introspective modern horror in cartoon colors.

Monaghan layers his paint on thickly, building almost crystalline textures that diffuse one’s sense of light. The transparency of a glass plate on a glass table, the red glow of a police car, they look almost like the textures one might make with chalk, but without the smoothness.

His work seems to be either introspective (indeed, one painting is named Introspection) or voyeuristic, with nothing in between. Or perhaps it is all merely voyeuristic, with the audience intruding upon the artist’s introspection.

His subject matter is heavy and thoughtful, often about contemporary surveillance society and perception. But there is humor in his technique, and in the colors and textures he loves. It is worth taking the time to stand still and look deeply at them, to find what angles you see in them. For example, in his painting “Security,” does the barred window protect the occupant of the house we can glimpse inside, or the viewer standing outside?

Monaghan’s show, ‘You Decide to Take a Walk,’ is at the gallery On Stellar Rays at 1 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, through mid-August.


About Alex Holt

I am a local artist from Brooklyn, NY. I love art, design, books, photography, gardening and blogging.
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