For regular visitors to the Grenning Gallery (90 Main Street, Sag Harbor) Shea Keating is a familiar face. As the gallery’s manager, she spends her days showing paintings to clients, keeping track of accounts and making sure the business runs smoothly.Â
But from now through mid-May, Keating is taking on a new role at the Grenning Gallery — that of featured artist. More than a dozen of Keating’s still lifes, portraits and landscape paintings now adorn the walls, alongside those of the gallery’s regular artists, many of whom have studied at the prestigious Florence Academy in Italy.
“I’m inspired by the painters here,” says Keating. “They are in my age range and supporting themselves by painting. I’ve had my own education, which brings a different dynamic. We’ll see if the paintings work, and if people want to take them home.”
This show represents a big step for Keating, a Pierson High School graduate with a degree in painting from the School of Visual Arts. Though Keating’s educational influences were dominated primarily by contemporary and modern art, her painting style has always leaned toward representational work.Â
“I was never classically trained to do realism,” says Keating, “but I’ve always worked from observation.”
The Florence Academy is known for training painters in classic, old world style realism and since working at the Grenning Gallery, Keating notes her style has evolved thanks to the influence of painters she comes into contact with on a regular basis.Â
“I have a huge respect for the Florence Academy,” says Keating. “I don’t know most of the methods, but I’ve gotten a little insight about it. I take it, try to learn about it and use my own technique.”Â
While the ultra-realistic style of some of the gallery’s artists is not one Keating can ever imagine mastering herself, she has met other painters who bring a more airy quality to their realism — and this is the style of painting that Keating has come to understand and embrace in her own work.
“I’ve learned a lot from looking at the paintings,” she says. “I’m automatically drawn to Ben Fenske’s work because of his application — it’s much looser. He has become a great friend of mine, when he’s here we go painting together.”
Fenske lives in Florence, but spends a number of months each year painting on the East End. He has encouraged Keating to branch out into new modes of working, such as painting on location.Â
“He’s become this great buddy and he motivates me,” says Keating. “Landscape painting is a totally new thing for me. Your subject is constantly changing and the light is changing — it’s really hard. You’re also in the public, sort of exposed in a different way. It’s neat, and definitely challenging.”
Though she may work for the gallery, this show is by no means a gift on the part of gallery owner Laura Grenning. Though she’s been there nearly three years, Keating didn’t even share her work with Grenning until recently and when she suggested a show, Keating stressed that she wanted it to be as a result of her own merit.Â
“I said, ‘I hope this isn’t a favor to me,’” recalls Keating. “ If you saw these and didn’t know whose they were and didn’t want them, I don’t want them on the wall.’”
But on the wall they are, and now Keating has one more task to add to her job — talking about her own art. Keating is not yet sure how she will react when customers start looking at her work with a critical eye.
“This is my beginning. It’s a scary thing to hang your stuff up. It’s a new dynamic for me here,” she admits. “Instead of being the person behind the desk and talking about other artists, I’m exposed. I’m not just like the other artists — I’m a face that has to be here with them.”
“But one day, I want to be out from behind the desk and just on the wall,” she adds. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Top: Shea Keating in front of a gallery wall hung with her paintings
Above: Keating’s painting of the Sag Harbor Bridge