| For The Columbus Dispatch
When reflecting on 40 years of acquiring, selling and displaying art through their German Village gallery, brothers Jim and Tim Keny have noticed that many of their favorite works deal with matters of the eternal.
“I feel like many successful works of art, in one way or another … have a transcendent sense of something greater than just the artist himself,” said Tim Keny, co-owner of Keny Galleries with his sibling.
A new exhibit emphasizes art as a vessel for spiritual ideas. “Art & Spirituality: A Multi-Cultural Selection” — which will continue through Nov. 13 at the gallery and is also viewable online at kenygalleries.com — offers works by artists representing a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds and religious traditions.
The exhibition (reviewed based on the online version) comes on the heels of the opening of a major show at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia spotlighting African-American folk artist Elijah Pierce, whose works featuring Christian iconography are among those included at Keny Galleries. Striking in its clarity is Pierce’s painted bas-relief woodcarving “Sermon on the Mount,” showing a profile of Christ seated amid stones and foliage and surrounded by a brilliant, Van Gogh-style sky.
Further inspiration to present the exhibit came from the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Among the 12 artists featured, five are female, including the brilliant watercolorist — and one-time teacher at what is now the Columbus College of Art & Design — Alice Schille.
“She converted and became a devout Catholic during her lifetime,” Tim Keny said of the artist, whose family was Lutheran.
Several works by Schille depict houses of worship: The almost blindingly bright watercolor “Sunlight on a Mexican Church” presents a daytime view of the exterior of a church with speckles of yellow suggesting sunlight bouncing off of the building. Another watercolor, “An Old Church in Brittany,” presents two lone parishioners — perhaps a mother and child — kneeling inside a shadowy church; stained-glass windows, glimpsed from behind a passageway, add a hint of color.
Contrast this with African-American artist Rosie Lee Tompkins’ dazzling quilt “Half Squares.” It bursts forth with energy and excitement, with triangular shapes rendered in everything from rainbow stripes to what look like paisley patterns to a volcanic shade of orange.
Native American religious rituals are reflected in Jose D. Roybal’s watercolor-on-paper “San Ildefonso Pueblo Basket Dance Procession” and Gustave Baumann’s color woodblock print “Hopi Katzinas,” the latter showing kachina dolls.
“(Baumann) was an expert on Hopi Pueblo kachina iconography — all the gods associated with these little figures,” Keny said.
A number of the pieces are simple, even severe in their style, as though too much ornamentation would have drowned out the artist’s vision.
A case in point are quilts produced by Amish communities in Ohio, including the “Diamond in the Square Quilt,” which, with a pale blue diamond resting on a point inside red and green borders, is as spare as any abstract painting.
Keny said that viewers are likely to connect with the works regardless of their familiarity with particular creeds.
“Visually, the objects are so strong and evocative. … They’re very moving without you having been familiar with the specifics of the religious beliefs,” he said.
At a glance
“Art & Spirituality: A Multi-Cultural Selection” will continue through Nov. 13 at Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. An online version of the exhibit can be viewed at kenygalleries.com.