Critique

This is Black art by a White artist. This art is the evolution of specifically “American” art, not least of all because the Black/White dichotomy in American culture has proven to be a seemingly irreducible one. This work in part questions that immovable wall and silence.

It is important that this work was created by a “White” person, and more importantly that it could have been created by a “Black” person. As a whole it pushes at the accepted boundaries of Black and White because of this fact. While none of this work should be understood in the least as “post ­black,” it implicitly forces us to think about the possibility of understanding White and/or Black as verbs rather than nouns.

The two positions -- black and white -- are quintessentially American. More than the “amber waves of grain,” this disparity defines this country's culture, then and now. Are Black-‘ness’ and White -‘ness’, respecting the heterogeneous contexts of both, not simply aspects of a common American culture?

This is one question the “Black” art of a White artist asks the viewer. The answer is invaluable for the future of this country, to the future of each of us, Black or White.

Kelleher's art bravely and with simple but unadorned elegance and power disowns none of “American” by affirming the secret shame of historical reality and thereby offers the gift of truly getting beyond it without forgetting it for those capable of understanding the catharsis that it represents.

(Excerpted from r.l. bickham, The Art of Maureen Kelleher, January 2008. r.l. bickham writes on art from New Orleans)


The first and most lasting impression of these pieces is an invigorating thickness, a density. The combination of rough edges, asymmetric corners and slightly off curves, certifies human agency. The eyes follow the intent of another human being.

There is a discreet, even playful, subtext of an ethics of empathy here. We are clearly speaking with one of “us.”

… the splicing of regional colloquialisms, the spacing of language not as language but as a generative thing as well — these features create an unusual multifaceted dialectical engagement.

This combination captivates the viewer before the relationship ever needs to be explicitly declared or contested and long after the flush of the new gives way to the comfort of the familiar or the embarrassment of nakedness.

The art seduces the viewer; one is pulled unwittingly into a secret life, right there, in plain view.

This is work that has become, that is becoming. It has been sweated over, laughed with, most certainly lived through, loved, hated, discovered, disowned. The artist has been ashamed of it, afraid about it, moved by it, and created it with care.

Only a woman could make something like this; only a man could put so much into these hard edges. For the gift to be sustainable, the journey has to engage, taste, smell, challenge, feel, share, inspire, inflame, embolden, demand, appeal. Here is a journey of such dimensions.

This is vital work of remembering who we are and making peace with our collective and individual ghosts and muses.

Revelry, self indulgence, respect for the matrix, and showing up on the grid may be part of the artist's personal repertoire, but these aspects are in the background or all together absent from her work. Kelleher's work de-familiarizes without obfuscating and generously, topically, intimately, takes us with it to places we would otherwise never dare. Take the figurative hand offered, take a chance, and take the journey.

r.l. bickham, February 2008