Ian McKeever

The binary quality of McKeever’s vision – white and black, light and dark, inside and outside, something and nothing - has long been evident in his painting, and in this new show at the Royal Academy it appears to be reinforced in his recent photographs. Although the paintings are large and public, while the photographic prints are small and private, they are similarly imbued with a mood of quietness and stillness. There are no labels, no words, in the gallery; the images remain silent.

What the painter sees through his lens is softly echoed in the layered ribbons of opaque and transparent pigment he puts down on canvas. Reflections hover on walls and stairs, dark shadows fall on small domestic objects, light filters through the material of a jacket or is glimpsed through heavy wooden shutters. Although familiar, these objects exist on the verge of dissolution. In this sense they recall the paintings, where diaphanous veils of milky white paint advance from the warm cotton ground beneath, like a morning mist on the horizon.

Beyond their engagement with the transience of things, the photos do not help to explain the paintings, which (as he says in the catalogue), ‘occupy their own space, which is not of something specific in the world’. But if at one level this world of discreet domestic objects seems at odds with the non-specific and archetypal forms of his paintings, at another they help to illuminate the veiled relationship, as he sees it, between the world as it exists for us in time & space and the world ‘in itself’ (which is unknowable).  If the recent photographs dwell on the phenomenal, the earlier paintings aspire to the noumenal. Taken together they suggest his quiet desire for transcendence.

Ian McKeever: Hartgrove Paintings and Photographs. Royal Academy, until 24 October 2010