San Juan College art gallery opening show by Nevada artist

Larry Keenan works in unusual medium of alcohol-based ink

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Larry Keenan's "Southwest Abstraction: An Intuitive Evolution" exhibition opens this weekend at San Juan College.
  • "Southwest Abstraction: An Intuitive Evolution" opens Aug. 9 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Art Gallery.
  • An opening reception is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. that day.
  • The show will remain on display through Aug. 30.

FARMINGTON — At one point in his life, hairdryers were something Larry Keenan used several times a day. Then he changed jobs and put them aside for many years before finding a new use for them.

"I used to be a hairstylist," the Las Vegas, Nevada, artist said. "I couldn't do hair, but I can paint."

Keenan, who open this "Southwest Abstraction: An Intuitive Evolution" exhibition this weekend at San Juan College, works in oils, watercolors, acrylics and alcohol-based ink. It is when he is working in the latter medium that he dusts off his hairdryer, using it to manipulate the quick-drying ink.

"No brush touches my painting," he said, explaining the process by which he works. "Everything is done with a hairdryer. The heat evaporates the (alcohol), and the force of air moves the ink. That creates the images."

Keenan enjoys working with alcohol-based ink because of the vibrant color it yields and its translucent nature. But he is the first to acknowledge it is a challenging medium with which to work.

"It takes a long time to learn it," he said. "The hairdryer evaporates the alcohol, so you have to work quickly."

Artist Larry Keenan will be showcasing his abstract landscapes done in alcohol-based ink in his show opening at San Juan College.

Keenan taught himself the process, explaining it took a couple of years before he became comfortable with it. He has since become very efficient at it, noting that the act of creating an alcohol-based ink painting requires a fair amount of physicality.

"I'm moving so much," he said. "If I'm at an angle and I want to go in a different direction, I have to jump quickly from side to side. That causes the edges to change."

His subjects consist largely of desert landscapes and florals, and both seem well suited for his style. Keenan derives much of his inspiration from regular visits to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a nearly 200,000-acre preserve in the Mohave Desert on the west side of Las Vegas that is well known for its panoramic views, Mars-like landscapes, seasonal waterfalls and plentiful canyons.

Keenan likes to go on lengthy hikes through the preserve, venturing off the trails and finding an isolated, scenic spot where he can meditate. He takes mental snapshots of certain scenes, then recreates them from memory when he gets back to his studio, never working from actual photographs.

"I don't plan it," he said. "Every painting is like Christmas. I never know what I'm going to get."

It's a process he has employed since moving to Las Vegas from his native Chicago 12 years ago and recommitting himself to painting, something he had studied in college.

"I really wasn't sure I would enjoy the desert at first because I like all the greenery (of the Midwest)," he said.

But more than a decade of living in the Southwest has taught him a deep appreciation for arid landscapes, he said, even if, at first, he simply didn't get it.

"I thought, 'This is the desert — what am I possibly going to paint? Sand?'" he recounted, laughing.

Artist Larry Keenan manipulates the alcohol-based inks he uses in many of his work with a hair dryer.

These days, Keenan marvels at the stark, striking landscapes he regularly encounters in Nevada, Arizona and Utah. During a visit to the Farmington area this week to visit his sister, he said the local arroyos had captured his imagination. Although his work has been displayed extensively in the greater Las Vegas metropolitan area, this will be his first show in New Mexico, and he hopes his unusual style registers with viewers here.

Keenan's sister is a former staff member at San Juan College, and she helped bring his work to the attention of those who select exhibitions for the campus gallery. He said he didn't hesitate to accept their offer of scheduling a show.

"Any opportunity to show my art is a good opportunity," he said.

The work in this exhibition is all new, having been created over the last year. Keenan said it includes 26 larger, framed pieces and more than 100 smaller works.

An opening reception for Keenan's show is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Art Gallery on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. "Southwest Abstraction: An Intuitive Evolution" will remain on display through Aug. 30. Call 505-566-3464.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.