Mr. Paul F. Keene Jr. (1920-2009) was an abstract realist artist, teacher and famed Tuskegee Airman. His background and achievements defy the odds and the times of his era. His vibrant acrylic on paper art is a study of his alterations of scale, color light and atmosphere. His grid-based compositions are juxtaposed against concentric circles. For Mr. Keene, color was his personal symbol.
He earned three degrees (B.F.A., B.Sc.Ed., and M.F.A.) and taught at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and the Philadelphia College of Art. WWII started after his graduation and he chose to enlist in the Air Force. He attained the rank of lieutenant and became a member of the esteems Tuskegee Airmen. His put his GI bill to good use. He enrolled to study at the Academie Julian in Paris, a private and prestigious art school. While in Paris, he helped found Gallerie 8, a collective gallery for American artists.
A few years later, his work was exhibited in a shared show with Picasso and Leger in Haiti. In fact, Haitian deities, voodoo symbolism and depictions of jazz musicians are all subjects of his work. His work reflects his personal responses, the accomplishments and difficulties of African Americans in the 20th century.
He has a lifelong list of accolades. His work can be found along the East Coast, from a mural in Charlotte to a large relief installation in Philadelphia and a ceramic installation in North Philadelphia. In 1976, The University of the Arts presented him with the Silver Star Award. In 1998, he was the first recipient of the Woodmere Art Museum’s George Beach Pioneer Award. He produced prints over two decades with the Brandywine Workshop, winning its Van Der Zee Award in 1990.
Mr. Keene, Jr.’s artwork is coveted by collectors and in permanent museum collections. Museums include:
Philadelphia Museum of Art, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Hampton University Museum in Virginia, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the James A. Michener Art Museum, the British Museum in London, the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University in Baltimore, the Nigerian National Museum, the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg, the Dallas Museum of Art, Tucson Museum of Art, and the Woodmere Art Museum and others.
Keene retired in 1985 from a professorship at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) in Newtown, Pennsylvania, where he helped to establish a new art department. His art contributions are still studied today.
Images © Brandywine, Philadelphia Museum of Art