Paul O'Keeffe's work over the past decade is situated in two strains of thinking about contemporary practice that tend to be seen as oppositional but that he wants to put into play. First, there is the effort, characteristic of late modernism, to remove the work from narrative. Color, form and materials are used in such a way as to defy the viewers' desire to make meaning of the work apart from the immediate encounter with the form. His recent work is similarly about this first moment of engagement. The pieces are large, the colors are somewhat jarring, and there are few immediate clues as to the meaning of the work. It is the corporeal experience that first impresses. Intense fluorescent hues often destabilize the form and make an overall image difficult to grasp. At the same time, there are indicators that encourage a more analytical approach, and that therefore move the work beyond the phenomenological. The titles of the works, somewhat obscure, might be apparent to fans of late 70s bands like The Jam, Gang of Four and Suicide, music that emerged contemporaneously with the decline of the modernist era. A work like The Cambridge employs text from the lyrics of a Buzzcocks song, (I'm in distress. I need a caress. What do I get?), printed over a common wallpaper pattern used in his then local pub named The Cambridge, home base for the art school next door and also several bands such as the Sex Pistols. Draped over a rail of modernist design, the printed fabric suggests the self pity, uncertainty and upheaval of the time when art and life both faced a moment of crisis.
Paul O'Keeffe was born in Dublin, Ireland. As an undergraduate he attended St. Martin's School of Art, London and the National College of Art and Design Dublin. He received a MFA from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1981. He joined the faculty of Kent State University in 1983 where he is currently a professor. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions both in the United States and abroad including exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Dublin. He is the recipient of a number of awards and honors including a Fulbright Fellowship, a Ford Foundation grant, nine Individual Artist Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, an Arts Midwest/National Endowment for the Arts Award and several awards from the Arts Council of Ireland. Paul O'Keeffe's work is represented in many public and private collections including The Arts Council of Ireland; Bayer USA, Pittsburgh; Progressive Insurance, Cleveland; Kaiser Permanante, Cleveland and the Cleveland Public Library.