top of page
  • Writer's pictureCassidy Early

Biff Keough

This is About Sex, 9” x 11”. Oil & flocking powder on cradled panel, 2020. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Cassidy Early: Good Morning, Biff, thanks for talking with me today.

Biff Keough: Hey Cassidy, no thank you!

CE: Tell me about yourself, where are you from and how did you end up at SAIC?

BK: I grew up in Minnesota and started taking instruction at the atelier when I was pretty young, like at age 5 or something. My parents decided that if I really wanted to be an artist, I had to be the “right” kind of artist. To them, that meant a classically trained portrait artist or something? I ended up apprenticing under the artist James Robinson at the Art Academy in St.Paul and then went on to teach there. I taught during highschool and after graduating I decided to give a go at college in Washington state. I decided not to continue after my first year and moved to San Francisco where I was a body painter and a nanny. I moved back to Minnesota and found myself homeless for a time, I was crashing on friends’ couches and feeling really lost. I reached out to my old mentor and was asked to start teaching again. A few years later a student asked me for a letter of recommendation for SAIC and that’s how I found out that I wanted to go there. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth taken out the day I got my acceptance and scholarship letters and I promptly drooled blood all over them.

This is About Sex, detail.

CE: Why did you choose Advanced Painting? How has your work changed since AP?

BK: My two previous painting studios before AP were with Mike Cloud, a phenomenal teacher with a penchant for scholarly critique, and Funny Painting with Scott Reeder (who exposed me to some of my favorite artists right now). Both of those classes made me realize that I could benefit from studio space, white walls, and regular critique.

I feel like I’m always in the studio, but I rarely finish paintings because I’m still learning when a painting is done.

CE: In your current work what are your main concerns, themes or objectives?

BK: I realized after coming to SAIC that I had a lot of internalized bias about what art is, and I've been pushing myself to unlearn a lot of prejudice that comes from my intensely traditional training. My mentor had really precise notions about taste that were ingrained in me from very young so NOW i’m making work that would probably embarrass him.

Nothin’ But Net, 24” x 36”. Oil on canvas, 2020. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

BK: Making work right now feels strange to me, because I want to make paintings that make me laugh but I also want to be able to paint what I see and how I’m feeling (anxious, depressed, gassy)

BK: ‘How do I marry my technical training with the images in my head?’ is a question that plagues me. Whoops, plague isn’t a good word to use right now, it haunts me. There we go.

BK: Right now I'm just focusing on painting things that make me laugh and doing material studies.

CE: Do you think you *have* to marry the technical training? Do you think that’s already happening? From what you’re saying it sounds like you’re also thinking about how to divorce the emphasis on your technical training in the work you create.

BK: I guess I don’t need to marry the technical training and my current practice. You know, Cassidy, I’ve realized I have typical rote answers to these questions that maybe I don’t really vibe with anymore. I have a feeling that most artists have heard the Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” referred to painting. It makes sense, but will I do it? Who is to say.

CE: I think it's one of those things thats going to be constantly happening and not happening. Intentional and subliminal. I try not to worry about it, (and often fail!) so you're not alone.

Video Courtest of the Artist.

CE: Who are your biggest artistic or theoretical influences?

BK: My background is recreating ‘old master’ works so I was surrounded by Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Raphael, Vermeer etc so they are always in my head. I really enjoy the work of turn of the century illustrators like Rackham, Potter, and Dulac because of the ethereality of their watercolor washes and subject matter.

BK: These days I’ve been reading a lot of poetry and short stories. Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hairball’ is a fave, it’s about a woman who gets a dermoid cyst removed, puts it in formaldehyde and places it on her mantle and talks to it. It’s a wild ride, I highly suggest it.

CE: What is your studio practice like after the move off campus?

BK: In the studio I was making dioramas for a painting and then realized I just wanted to make dioramas. They are all in the studio right now along with a lot of my materials so i’ve been making small quick paintings and that’s been freeing.

Quick Quarantine Self Portrait Study, 9” x 11”. Oil on cradled panel, 2020. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

BK: I’m currently figuring out how to flock a painting! Turns out Judith Geichman has made a lot of flocked paintings so it’s been nice chatting with her about that.

CE: Yeah, she feels like a great person to talk to about that.

CE: Do you have an instagram or a website that you’d like us to share?

BK: I’m @Biffkeo on instagram! I’d also like to take this opportunity to plug the Southern Poverty Law Center:

CE: Awesome, Thanks Biff!

BK: Thanks again, Cassidy, you’re the best.

Biff Keough is a current student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

188 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page