Caitlin Keogh’s debut solo exhibition at Leslie Fritz, Modes, draws its inspiration and title from her time spent in an eponymous antique clothing and textile shop on the Rue Blaes, tucked away from the bustle of the Jeu de Balle flea market in Brussels. With her attuned eye for intricate and delicate textures, Keogh’s nine paintings present themselves quietly but merit close attention, with one returning to the surfaces as though examining a piece of fabric on repeated visits.
The paintings are modest in scale, though visually arresting, as each panel reveals her precision in detailing the assortment of patterns taken from a variety of fabrics, including needlepoint, lace, a Bargello stitch, and a rose that appears to be lifted from a sumptuous tapestry. It is certain that the paintings benefit from careful viewing, as the variations in observing from a distance as well as in reproduction give the work an almost photographic, textured feel, an optical accuracy that effectively mimics the feel of the textiles. However, when seen up close it becomes clear that the surfaces are incredibly flat, sanded smooth to absorb the paint, and carefully arranged to the point in which a grid technique becomes visible. Minor imperfections in color, shape, or traces of the artist’s hand are revealed, reading as a type of preparatory pattern. This tension between the nearly machine-like exactness of the imagery when seen at a distance, and the attention to Keogh’s personal touch and technique underscores the relationship to her subject – these works are not merely products of meticulous reproduction, but highlight an experiential quality akin to her hours spent at the shop, examining and identifying moments of craft.
Belgium is no stranger to the business of fashion and textiles, home of the Antwerp Six and a distinct individuality that challenges that of major fashion capitals, maintaining its own unique sensibility. It seems fitting to come upon a place like Modes in this sense; while of course antique shops and flea markets are a dime a dozen throughout Europe, it is obvious from Keogh’s fascination with this particular spot that it sets itself apart with its eye for incredible quality and exceptional handiwork.
Keogh’s recent work has frequently incorporated the social economies of fashion production and textiles without veering in the direction of the overtly political, from her interpretations of fashion advertising to a style manual on variations of scarf tying, while maintaining her own understated blend of skilled drafting and color technique and an understanding of legible functionality in painting or drawing. The work in Modes speaks both to a visual affinity for these materials and the experience of close interaction with something that had, as stated in her accompanying exhibition text, “no distance in terms of design, production, completion, and use” due to its presentation in the shop, an “unmediated” encounter with objects removed from their history and function.
It is tempting to read Keogh’s paintings as a nostalgic, romantic vision of handmade skill and craft not yet outsourced to machines, but the direct and methodical way in which her subjects are rendered prevents this shift from occurring, and in turn negotiates the space between use, production, and practice.