Sharp edges frame the man cave
Stephen Kekule presents his artwork, just in time for Father's Day
Instead of hammers and saws, Stephen Kekule now uses a pencil and paint brush.
There are few signs of feminine flair in the work of this former construction worker: no soft edges or flowing lines, no rolling hills, meandering rivers or ebbing tides.
Rather, the 56-year-old Portlander, who studied architecture and drafting before working 20 years in construction, builds harmonious compositions of geometric landscapes where hard edges, straight lines and sharp angles dominate.
A subject he knows firsthand, Kekule's paintings are a product of what he calls the 'built-environment.' In Art for the Man Cave, this month's Father's Day-themed exhibit at Art on Broadway, he presents several acrylic versions of his industrial scenes on canvas.
After Kekule retired, he started making sculptures - large, abstract pieces using mixed-media materials like glass, wood, wire, paper and clay. But when his sculptures grew too big and required too much space, he decided to try painting.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Kekule said he loved to draw as a kid, but when it came to learning professional art, he is self-taught. He checked out library books, subscribed to magazines, visited museums and local galleries and taught himself to paint through trial and error.
Almost everything Kekule paints is modeled from photographs that he has taken. 'It always fascinates me to discover a seemingly mundane and ubiquitous spot that sparks the seed of inspiration,' he wrote in his artist statement. 'Every place has its own identity.'
Most striking to Kekule, who lived in Montana for 10 years before moving to Aloha, is the nature of light and how it illuminates certain scenes.
'It may only be the way a shadow falls across the surface, or the way a shape repeats through an area that catches my eye,' he said. 'Whatever the reason, it is that place in that singular moment that leads me to probe intricacies and subtleties, becoming a model for deep and prolonged study.'
Kekule locates the most visually interesting subjects not on overcast Portland days when light sheds blandly over objects, but on early morning or late evenings when the sun is rising or sinking, and angles, shadows and brilliant colors reveal themselves to his lens.
After capturing a photo, Kekule uploads it to his computer where he crops and refines the image to prepare for drawing. As precisely as he might draft a blueprint for a home, Kekule spends almost a month correcting his design on paper using graphite or charcoal until he transfers the sketch to canvas and begins painting, a process of adding color that take up to two months to complete. As a result, he completes only about three or four paintings a year.
Instead of following strict rules of painting, Kekule tends to go with his gut feeling and a bit of natural talent. He likens his painting techniques to moving pieces on a chess board, aligning elements until he feels they are in the proper place. Only then begins the life of the painting; and only then can the painting's character come forth.
'My job is to introduce and balance the pieces into a harmonious composition,' he said.