Keith Foskin’s Art

A Mortal’s Immortality

On Monday I drove to Sterling, Colorado.  I’m sure there must be some core deficiency in my being, but I can’t relate to the desolation of the high plains in the dead of winter.  More than once during that 100 mile journey, I asked “why?”  It’s good I had a compelling answer.  I want to see Keith’s show.  That kept me going.  The drive home was easier, not because I was moving closer to my comfort zone, but because Keith’s images and concerns were racing through my mind.  I didn’t see the drabness of the Pawnee Grasslands; only the brilliant colors and dynamic forms of Keith’s work.

I arrived in a lonely town, parked in an old-fashioned lot in which everything is paved, found the uninspired French building on the Northeastern Community College campus, and stumbled onto the Youngers Fine Art Gallery.  The incongruity of the art within the gallery and the immediate and extended settings annoyed me at first.  In a bit, I convinced myself that the incongruity enhanced the art.  It’s hard to see something new and fresh if everything blends together in complementary and undifferentiated ways.  That certainly wasn’t happening here.  So, for those who have eyes to see, there was much to learn.

I appreciate Patrice’s work, but on this day I came to connect with Keith.  I believe Keith has 14 paintings in the show.  Each piece engaged me, but I held onto the six Vogue inspired “femme fatales”, “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” and “Interior Internal” the most.  Questions abound – why is the hand of God so prevalent; is that Keith in the center of “The Readymade of Bill’s Arm”; what’s the interaction between Scarecrow and Smiley Face; how do I work through the adjacencies of bold, definitive images with tentative, shadowy sketches; and can I resolve the enigmas Keith brings to life – e.g., he honors the “demos” even as he portrays its contemptible degradation?

I felt a mild disappointment by the presentation of the show in the written word.  Patrice’s work is labeled “private.”  Keith’s work is labeled “public.”  This is benign for Patrice.  Patrice’s work is private in the vernacular sense of the intimate and personal.  Keith’s work reveals the foundation of a truly political purpose, but there is no genuinely public world where there is no genuinely private world.  In fact, the most challenging and defining political act is to create a just differentiation between the public and the private, and to chart their most appropriate and effective interactions.  A genuinely political statement must always intimate the parameters of its appropriateness and the limits of its application.  This is precisely what Keith’s art does.  It is never just “public,” leaving someone else to do the “private” stuff.  It speaks directly to the keystone political task: differentiating the public and the private.  It respects both.  It expects much from both.  And it protects the implications of the distinction.

Although it is a genuine and intensely held understanding, I am hesitant to express my strongest sentiment about Keith’s work.  My hesitancy has two sources.  First, we are living during a time in which language has been emptied and violated – justice means torture; freedom means surveillance; morality means majoritarian habits; less government means an expanded military and preemptive war; fiscal responsibility means cutting taxes coupled with undisciplined spending; “no child left behind” means “every child held back.”  But what I want to put into words is not a linguistic twist or spin.  I mean precisely what I want to say.  I am serious, and I want to be taken seriously.  But even if I’m taken seriously, I’m still likely to be misunderstood.  That becomes another form of not being taken seriously.  My hesitancy stated and now set aside, I am serious in thanking Keith for creating works of art that immortalize him.  Here’s how I approach the possibility of a mortal’s immortality.

I’m not sure what the greatest sin against “god” is.  I do have a sense of the greatest sin against human life – rebellion against human existence as it has been give (“a free gift from nowhere” says Hannah Arendt) to us on earth.  Life on earth is the essence of the human condition.  There are many ways to sin against the human condition, but the most persistent and damaging is the tyranny of “eternity” – the idea of something that transcends this world’s time and space, and is understood to be the genuine or authentic reality.  There is no more fundamental violation of our human condition than to rebel against the reality and primacy of human existence as its limits and possibilities are manifested by living on earth.  Life on earth within the realities of the earth is the essence of the human condition.  How we form and honor that human condition is the quintessential political question.

Eternity wars against human life on earth.  Immortality celebrates the highest accomplishments of mortal life on earth.  Eternity challenges human authenticity and purpose. Immortality affirms remarkable human achievements.  Eternity invites the Great Escape.  Immortality requires the Great Engagement.  Immortality simply means endurance in time; to penetrate life on this earth beyond our human mortality.  It reveals the potential greatness of mortals: their ability to produce things – art, works, deeds, and words – that deserve to endure and, in some measure, do endure beyond their creators.  Through these things, mortals create a world on earth that endures even as they pass away.

Keith has produced such things. He has created work that endures beyond his mortality.  I mean much more than the stretched canvases and dried paint that remain.  I mean the insights and images and possibilities and hopes and fears and anger and love and joy that continue to live with rich vibrancy in a world now denied his vitality.  Keith did that for us.  In his own words, he said he wanted to offer “…images that provoke and cajole, rather than be.”  He took on the work of creating beyond himself; the work of an enduring vitality, not just existence.  We are doubly blessed – we continue to learn and to grow through his work, and through the immortality of his work the mortal Keith is, if not with us, still accessible to us. Thanks be to the human condition.

February 28, 2008

Dr. Robert Hoffert
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (emeritus)
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO. 80523

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