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    I’m writing this from inside Keltie Ferris’ painting “Dives.” I’m not sure how long ago I fell in. Time lapses here into blues, purples, a lone snatch of pale, fleshy pink. Gestural black lines cursive across the canvas in a way that makes some viewers think of graffiti. A grid of bluish dots peeks out between the spray-painted loops, as if something ordered has been overgrown with wilder shapes. And then — straight smears of white and gray, bars with hard edges. It’s as if Ferris reached through the screen of a liquid television and dragged her pallet knife through the colors.

    Like most of the works in *O*P*E*N* — Ferris’ show on display at the Speed Art Museum through Feb. 3 — “Dives” is large (96 by 77 inches), yet unimposing, almost intimate. Its color palette is tamer than the vivacious bursts found in her other paintings, which often read as digital, pixelated. The impasto’s depth, the bright colors, the spray-paint medium that is familiar to anyone who grew up in a city — it all makes the paintings so inviting. I want “Dives” to be my friend.

    Ferris was born in Louisville and now lives in New York. Though I’ve never spoken to her, I feel as though I’ve met her, maybe because there are 14 of her standing in front of me.  Fourteen of her body prints dominate a wall at the Speed, each with a different color palette — near-black on a red-and-blue background, white on graying yellow. The range of color in each piece gives them a sense of shape, preventing them from looking like stamps. You can see the creases in her jeans and the buttons on her shirt. She’s said that, because she used her own body, the pieces display a sense of agency. Ferris started making them in 2013, applying vegetable oil to her body, imprinting herself on canvas, and then applying pure pigment — in effect, creating paint.

    Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art at the Speed, highlights the gender ambiguity in the prints, which cut off at the neck. They reveal identity and blur it; they are made not just by but, in a sense, of Ferris, and yet they seem almost anonymous.

    I leave with a complicated sense of the body, how it is us and is not us, individual in style and universal in composition. As I cross the street, I step in a puddle, and though the ripples drum outward in a pattern corresponding to my exact weight and shape, if you were to watch the water calm, you’d have no idea who stepped in it. Could have been anyone.

    This originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo courtesy of Speed Art Museum

    Dylon Jones's picture

    About Dylon Jones

    Dylon Jones is a senior editor at Louisville Magazine.

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