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'A multiplicity of identities'

Hamilton, OhioBeing Good asks as many questions as it answers. Maybe more.

Yet artist Maureen O’Keefe said whatever queries they prompt, her paintings appear to be revealing answers to audiences at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts where they hang.

“The (October 28) opening was exciting,” she said. “There were a lot of people, a lot of feedback. I always like to talk to people individually and there was one gentleman I spoke with a little later in the evening. He just loved the detail he was able to pick out of the work, things he recognized in the abstract that connected to him. Those are the kinds of responses I love.”

O’Keefe began doodling and sketching as child, even if she was supposed to be doing something else.

“I remember in second grade we had quiet reading time, but I was copying a poster on the wall instead of reading. The nun who was teaching came up and tapped her fingers on my desk. I was terrified.

“She said, ‘That’s very well done, but you have to put it away now.’ That was not at all what I expected. I thought I was in big trouble. That little bit of praise from her really stuck with me.”

Still, it took some time to make art a career. O’Keefe studied other options - English teacher and social worker among them - before ultimately pursuing her degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It took even more time to home in on her current style.

“In the arts people often come to it from the side streets,” she said. “There’s not always a straight road.”

Being Good depicts a duality - at least - about what we should consider “goodness.”

“Each of these subjects is being good in a way adjacent to what I was taught growing up, but maybe not the norm for a Midwestern audience,” O’Keefe said. “It’s kind of a celebration of being non-traditional.

“It’s kind of jam packed and that’s how my brain is, too, so that reflects what’s going on in my head. There is a part we like to show to others and a part other people don’t see. People are not one dimensional.

“My work has always been about identity. We all have a multiplicity of identities. Using just two sides in these pieces is kind of a shorthand for showing that. All of my work is kind of psychological, but there’s a connection to the physical, too.”

Blind-contour drawing allows O’Keefe to test both her technical skill as a painter and her perception as an artist. Working on larger canvases gives her room to include a broader view of her subjects instead of focusing on a single element.

“The process communicates the idea that humans are flawed but beautiful,” she said in the artist’s statement accompanying her work. “The process removes my control over the likeness of an individual while preserving a record of each observed detail. There is immediacy and honesty in this way of working. I’m looking for a truth about the human condition deeper than what can be seen on the surface.”

Being Good runs concurrently with the Home Free exhibition through January 5, 2024. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Galleries also are open during Fitton Center performances and rental events, or by special arrangement.

Interested in having an exhibition of your own at the Fitton Center? The deadline for exhibition proposals recently extended to December 3. Details and requirements available online right here.

The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.

Building Community Excellence through the Arts and Culture

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