(Above) The painting “Lithium” is done with a simple, childlike coloring book style, typical of Keith’s method of layering yesterday’s simple ways to present day realities.

(Above) One of my favorite paintings in the show was this work on a “found mattress” entitled “ICE.”

(Above) Detail of “ICE.”

(Above) “Readers Wives.”

(Above) A haunting portrait of a woman, entitled “Effective,” by Kit Keith.

(Above) Artist Kit Keith kindly poses for her portrait.

(Above) Painting on mattress entitled: “Good.”

(Above) This detail of the painting “Uncle” is strangely creepy.

(Above) Keith’s work blends text and image beautifully— a melding of things oddly familiar yet haunting.

(Above) Viewer takes a peek at big baby “Shane.”

(Above) Installation view of “Present to Past,” with the painting “Uncle” at the far end.

(Above) One wall included this installation called “HEAVEN,” which included found objects, drawings and other ephemera.

(Above) A viewer takes a close look at large painting of a boy by Keith.

(Above) In the case were several items hand painted by Keith.

(Above) The crowd was steady throughout the evening for Kit Keith’s first exhibition since returning from New York to St. Louis.

(Above) Left to right: COCA Director of Development Jackie Chambers, COCA Executive Director Stephanie Riven and COCA Gallery Assistant Tuan Nguyen take a moment for their photo.

(Above) Two “like” souls— artist Gary Passanise and Kit Keith, pose for Accidental Mysteries paparazzi.

ONE OF ST. LOUIS’ MOST TREASURED ARTISTS SEEMED HAPPY TO BE EXHIBITING HER WORK at COCA (Center of Creative Arts) in St. Louis the other night. Her show, entitled “Present to Past,”
included works past and present to an excited audience of fans. Those familiar with Keith’s work know they are dealing with imagery that comes at you from two diametrically different places—one place being that of nostalgia, innocence and the other being that of a darker world. Keith puts these things together in the same bed, so to speak (Keith often paints on old mattresses)—in a way that takes the viewer into a slightly uncomfortable dialogue with the image. Cloaked in nostalgia and a retro feel—the world of Kit Keith creates portraits of individuals who carry baggage the viewer may not want to know about.

Take the painting on mattress entitled “Uncle,” for instance. Depicted here is a jolly man—an “uncle” by title. Smiling and rotund, he’s a nice enough man all right. But look at him long enough and
“Uncle” just might be your worst nightmare—the pedophile in the clown suit. Keith’s work creates just enough discomfort to make the viewer feel there is something more—a psychological dark spot where the American dream is slightly awry.

Don’t be fooled by Keith’s “awkward” drawing style. Keith is sure-handed in what she depicts. Her style is solid, uniquely hers, and is never forced to comply with the constricting rules of draftsmanship. And that is the very thing which makes Keith great—she is adept at “her way”of presenting the world.

From her press release: “Kit Keith grew up the daughter of a father who was a sign painter and a mother who had a deep appreciation of antiques. Her parents’ influence is clearly evident in her work as she paints over thrift store paintings, old magazines, advertisements and other ephemera from the past. She is inspired by “beautiful illustrations” and a time when “everything was done by hand” when the convenience of a computer font was unimaginable. Her iconic portraits of elegant, wistful, figures carefully placed on old maps, ledgers and discarded papers are stoic yet emotive with a story behind each one.”

This exhibition covers over twenty years of Keith’s unique vision. The exhibition continues through July 19, 2009.

Learn more about Kit Keith, her life with the trapeze and more on her Web site here.