The Arts Center / 320 North White St., Athens, TN April 3 - May 31st

Donald Keefe

Ambispection refers to the consideration of a subject both retrospectively and prospectively. The term also evokes a broader category of inspection: that of introspection and something I call ‘extrospection’ --a preoccupation with what exists outside of oneself. The prefix “ambi” makes one think of ambivert, having equal characteristics of both an intro- and extrovert. There is also a suggestion of the adjectives ‘ambiguous’ and ‘ambivalent’: the double-minded quality of one who is reserving judgement and commitment for when, if ever, enough knowledge is gained to silence all doubt.

My current series of works reflect my artistic ambispection. Representational images point the viewer to content that exists beyond the frame of the artwork — things which are being objectively re-presented. Abstraction is art referencing itself; is self-contained and concerned with its own defining qualities. However, abstraction has also been the form which artists have used to present the spiritual and formless, based on subjective feeling and lacking any tangible reference to represent.

In my artworks, historical references and flat graphic elements that acknowledge digital processes, relate to this artistic dualism between representation and abstraction. As artist Mark Tansey illustrated in his A Short History of Modernist Painting series: painting can conversely be conceived of as a window, a wall, or a mirror. It is the ambivalence of post-modern, contemporary artists, to hold all of these points of view at once.

Many of my artworks contain landscape references. Like abstraction, landscape painting has been a vehicle through which artists have attempted to depict the presence of the Divine. This romantic interpretation is furthered by my use of landscapes which are often associated with spiritual mysteries, such as the American southwest. I grew up in that region, and vistas of deserts and mountains are idealized in my memory in the same way as my childhood neighborhood.

These artworks are as much an expression of myself as they are a reflection of the audiobooks of history, biography, and classical literature that I’ve absorbed while working in the studio. For me, art-making, like the ‘game’ of composition, is about balance. My art is not solely a therapeutic dive into the root of some imagined or real neurosis, nor is it a dry academic exercise of rendered forms floating on a canvas with no context, nor is it art for art sake. The act of creating art for me is one of ambispection: a retrospection upon my connection to life, history, religion, and art —and a prospective assertion of my being and individualistic will.


Donald Keefe was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and grew up in Southern California. He has lived and worked all over the country, from rural Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia, to Miami, FL, Los Angeles, and New York city. He has lived just outside of Chattanooga, TN since 2015, where he serves as Associate Professor of Art at Southern Adventist University. Him and his wife have one child and second on the way.

Donald earned an MFA from the University of Florida in 2013 after having received his BFA from the University of Kentucky in 2009. His artwork has been exhibited nationally, won awards, and been published several times. He has also completed private commissions and was the recipient of a federal grant for a public arts project.

He feels the greatest thing he has learned from his varied life experiences is to empathize with others and maintain faith and hope through trying situations.