They drove through Providence in clunkers painted with burlesque performers. They were RISD renegades, making weird paintings, weirder films. They were Dan Gosch and Marc Kehoe, two buddies whose works will be shown together for the first time in a new exhibition in Tiverton. Van Vessem Gallery will host “two painters,” an exhilarating collection of new works from both artists opening Saturday, Nov. 8. For those who can recall the Providence of the early 1970s, no introduction is needed, and a flyer with both painters’ names is likely impetus enough to go. For everyone else, a little history: Gosch and Kehoe were part of a pre-Cianci Providence that boasted an enviable cache of creatives, such as filmmaker Gus Van Sant, three-fourths of what would become the Talking Heads (David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz) and actor Charles Rocket. “Honestly, [we were] having a very good time,” says Kehoe of the Providence years. He and Gosch had a friend circle that would make any hipster jealous. Gosch and Rocket crashed the openings of fast-food joints as eco-heroes Captain Packard and Lobo, while Kehoe was bandmates with Byrne. When Kehoe needed music for a film he was making, he enlisted Byrne and Frantz to work together, a collaboration that bore obvious fruit. “[Gosch and I] became good friends. We spent a lot of time discussing what you might call reference material: paintings, art, movie stars, old cars,” says Kehoe. For them, the separation of high and low culture was artificial. “I think both of those cultures come from the same place,” says Gosch. He absorbed the influences of “sideshow paintings and banner art,” while Kehoe was drawn to the “compellingly and oddly beautiful, poetic and mysterious” highway system on the East Coast. They both loved film noir and spent hours consuming it during movie marathons at Brown.
Whatever their influences, people loved their art; Gosch’s murals at the Providence underground’s favorite bar, Leo’s, made him infamous with the in-crowd, “Most of the people coming to the show are coming because of that,” says Gosch. Kehoe left Rhode Island for New York, but he and Gosch stayed in touch. In the late 1980s, they worked together on the Broadway musical “Senator Joe,” a satire of Joe McCarthy produced by Adela Holzer. The real comedy wasn’t on the stage, but behind it: Holzer had scammed investors by pretending she was David Rockefeller’s “secret wife.” “She had funded a musical using a pyramid scheme,” laughs Kehoe. “It never opened.” “Two painters,” thankfully, will open: “One room will be Kehoe, one will be Gosch,” says Kehoe. In his paintings you can rediscover a piece of a dream you thought you’d forgotten. In Gosch’s work, one finds abnormal subjects — demons, dancing crowds, a dude in a fez — precisely rendered. “Representational art is bigger than it’s ever been,” Gosch says, slashing down a pseudo-informed question about the fate of the human figure in a concept-crazed art world. A careful look at his portrait of a redheaded girl — her face consumed in a maelstrom of freckles, her eyes the color of blue slush, a pair of buckteeth guarded by puffy lips — might convince you he’s right. Kehoe finds the human figure allows for a bigger, more diverse audience: “I like to depict us. I would enjoy having not just people of the rather incestuous or closed-off art world look at [my work.]” Gosch and Kehoe share a frightening technical competence, too. You could get lost in the controlled floods of brushstrokes that comprise Kehoe’s paintings. Gosch is a color maestro; his palettes seem to be of extraterrestrial origin. (“How do you achieve those bold colors?” I ask, fumbling for questions about form instead of content. Gosch laughs and says, “Just keep ’em nice and bright.”) Anyone who’s ever attempted to paint the human figure can appreciate the formal finesse of Kehoe and Gosch. Even in the debasing form of a JPEG, one sees the robustness of their paintings. Gosch and Kehoe are artists whose work is best felt and enjoyed, rather than probed for meaning. Gosch groans when galleries request an artist’s statement, a putting-into-words of what is de facto ineffable: “I’m totally lost. I cannot think of something that doesn’t sound pedantic and insincere…I relate to the physicality of [painting.]” Kehoe doesn’t resist interpretation, but he’s not one to chisel exact meanings in his work: “The best paintings are those that people go and look at and they figure out for themselves…The intention of the artist is not always of prime importance. I defeat my own intention…Really great art has to have a mysterious and unknown element in it.”
“Two painters” is your chance for some sensory reeducation. Keep your eyes wide open, until you’re grinning cheek to cheek.
Originally Published in The Newport Mercury November 2014