Having trained as an illustrator, Keith Shore is schooled in the art of precision, but as a fine artist he intentionally eschews it. He likes, and even plans for, the accidents that are part of painting with watercolors. The sloppy blotches contribute to an innocent, even naïve effect, but the ambiguity is a deliberate choice. It allows Shore to leave his paintings open-ended, not just in their final appearance, but also in their meaning.
In five years, Shore went through three different art schools and majors before he graduated from the Art Institute of Boston with a degree in design. He describes his own path as a crazy one. Now he paints and works on freelance illustration out of his studio in his house in Lambertville, a small town in New Jersey.
Shore makes landscapes stained in bright marbled watercolors and detailed with black acrylic ink. These landscapes aren’t exactly imaginary, but you won’t find them anywhere. They’re composites of travels, folklore, stories, photographs and memories mixed up and recombined in his easy bright style. A memorable trip to Ireland has shown up in many of his paintings, and Shore says that the implicit violence in some of these images is channeled from his impressions of Belfast.
The figures in these settings are barrel-chested orangey blobs, translucent over the backgrounds they inhabit. Like the land itself, they are based on real people and stories. Regardless of who inspired them, Shore’s brush transforms them into his signature big burly men. Shore marries a love of blurry edges and washes of color with a compulsion to embellish his scenes with the tiny marks from the most delicate watercolor brushes he can find. In most paintings, the black lines only appear in the faces, hands and feet of the burlies. All other parts of their bodies are allowed to wash over and into the grass and sky. These black lines draw the eye to their hands, which become the most expressive part of these figures. Often he uses the hands locate the action or introduce the narrative in a scene. A knife held up, or a simple hand gesture posed, imply motion and take on more meaning in an otherwise still scene.
Shore has a history of immersing himself in an idea, exploring it to the fullest, and then abandoning it for something new. Before burlies, his preoccupation was a cast of cultured monkeys. Although he has given them fangs, they look like old-time millionaires or gentlemen explorers, wearing safari hats and presuming to be Dr. Livingston. Their air of savagery and sophistication complements the way that their descendants, the rough and shirtless burly men, seem slightly at odds with their civilized human surroundings. Like the monkey men, Shore sees his burlies as a kind of Everyman, lacking even gender (though none resemble women). In both cases, Shore exercises control over their appearance, yet in the figures’ anonymity, the viewer paints the narrative.