Having worked as a carpenter and builder, American-born and Sweden-based artist Clay Ketter's work is inspired by built environments and draws on the craft of his earlier trades to explore the intersections between architecture, sculpture and painting.Read More
An oscillation between construction and fine art is apparent in early works such as his 'Wall Paintings' (1992–1999), a series of works made with spackle (a type of putty used in home renovation to cover holes and small cracks in walls) that is spread over screws and joints to create minimalist compositions on plasterboard. The approximately symmetrical lines and rectangles of spackle in White Over Grey Wall Painting (1999), for example, appear to loosely mimic a two-lane road.
The constructed quality of 'Wall Paintings' is continued in the artist's 'Trace Paintings' (1995–ongoing). Made with household materials such as enamel paint, the works are characterised by their forms that suggest the hidden innards of buildings. In Trace Painting #14 (1996), for example, the grain of a wooden panel is revealed through the outlines of six white, roughly painted rectangular forms that run parallel to the outlines of two wires and a small electrical box in the lower left-hand corner. When hung on a wall, the painting gives the illusion that a panel of drywall has been removed from the room, revealing the structural contents behind.
With his later series 'Gulf Coast Slabs' (2007), first exhibited at Bartha Contemporary in London in 2008, Ketter began to explore the socio-political implications of the built environment. Inspired by a photograph in TIME Magazine by Smiley Pool of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Ketter travelled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast with photographer Nils Bergendal to capture the foundations of demolished homes. Taken from above with the use of a lift cage, the resulting photographs appear as patchworks of rubble divided by the fissures of once-walls. With several measuring approximately two by three metres, the large-scale, intensely detailed photographs are a testimony to human vulnerability in the face of nature.
The fragility of the built environment is further explored by Ketter in his series of assemblages comprised of dollhouses. In Anywhereville (2008), for example, Ketter employs the same approach to two-dimensionality as in his previous works, so that the houses appear as floor plans rather than in their familiar forms. To achieve this, the houses have been violently flattened and arranged methodically in a tight, suburban layout. Fourteen houses line a road, each set against a rectangle of municipal green. Violence is further injected into the flattened composition once viewers discover that four of the fourteen houses have been burnt, adding an unsettling undertone to the work. Anywhereville was included in Ketter's 2009 survey at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and provided an overview of the artist's capacity to move between painting, photography and sculpture to shed light on existential issues.
Ketter was born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1961 and graduated with a BFA from the School of Art+Design, Purchase College, State University of New York. He currently lives and works in Malmö, Sweden.
Tessa Moldan | Ocula | 2018