GUIDE: After absence, Keyes has a brush with greatness


If good things do in fact come to those who wait, then Michael Keyes is in store for a whole lot of virtue.

It’d been more than four decades since the classically trained artist last picked up an oil paint brush, but that creative sabbatical came to a final and emphatic close on July 1, when Keyes debuted a roughly 20-piece exhibit of oil paintings and sketches at the Aurora Cultural Arts District gallery at 1400 Dallas St. The pieces will be on display by appointment through July 31.

“I’ve always really enjoyed (oils) and felt a knack for it,” Keyes said. “I always envisioned getting back into it, but it just took a while.”

Keyes’ 43-year hiatus from the medium began to wither about two years ago when he started taking classes in figure studies, landscapes and plein air, shortly after retiring to Aurora to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He said that he avoided oil painting while raising his family in southeastern Ohio because of its inherent toxicity and proclivity for mess. Instead of paints, his longtime favorite medium has been woodcut, which involves gauging planks of wood and later creating ink-based reliefs.

“One of the reasons I put oils off was that I didn’t want the fumes of the turpentine to be around the family,” Keyes said. “And in oil painting, all you have to do is bump against something, brush up against something or turn around quickly with a brush and you get paint everywhere and with kids and pets around I just didn’t want to do it.”

An avid long-distance runner and member of Red Delicious Press on East 16th Street in Aurora, the inspiration for Keyes’ exhibit came from a subject a step out of the artist’s typical wheelhouse: soccer.

Each print in the exhibit, dubbed “Play Soccer!”, is a translation of a photograph taken by Keyes during a mission trip to Honduras in 2010. Keyes spent two weeks volunteering at a school for the deaf in the coastal city of La Ceiba, along with his wife, Betsy, who is a sign language instructor. Dubbed Señas de Amor, the camp is meant to bolster the education and signing skills of deaf Honduran children. Every Thursday afternoon, the students would unwind with an aggressive, physical game of soccer, which Keyes observed and photographed.

“I was really inspired by their intensity and the action of their movements, positioning and just the amazing talent that there is in the sport of soccer,” he said. “It was very, very intense.”

Keyes said that the universality of the beautiful game is part of what drew him to the project, and he added that the fact that the FIFA Women’s World Cup is currently underway is helping to lure soccer back into the American zeitgeist, even if just temporarily. Roughly 3.2 billion people worldwide watched at least one minute of the 2010 Men’s World Cup in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The sport is really all about inclusivity and the idea that a child can succeed whether they’re rich or poor,” Keyes said. “It’s really neat that there is that awareness right now and I’m hoping that people will take a look at the roots of what happens with the World cup and the Cup of the Americas, and understand that it all starts with just youngsters kicking a ball in many, many different socioeconomic situations.”

Though about 20 paintings and sketches — each of which took between two and five days to produce — will be a part of the opening exhibit, Keyes said he might add more throughout July as he finalizes additional works.