By CHRISTOPHER MILLIS  |  June 12, 2007

More powerful still is One-Legged Army (2007). A glass-fronted, red-painted wooden box about the size of a breadbox houses tightly packed, multiple rows of nine-inch-tall soldiers whose faces, uniforms, and prostheses are the same matt black. Identical in height, expression, and posture, the troops are differentiated by their equipment. Some carry tweezers for guns, others miniature saw blades and drill bits. Nail clippers, dental picks, broken Swiss Army knives, tool chests, and sewing-box artifacts that a shrunken militia might employ in battle find their way onto the soldiers’ backs and belts and into their hands. If Athena and not Pandora had had a box, this would be it. Peer into the glass encasement and you’ll discover that the artist hasn’t assembled a mere squadron — it’s an army that extends infinitely. By manipulating mirrors at the back of the box, Keck makes her handicapped recruits appear to go on forever. What at first seems to be contained and creepily funny becomes unsettling when you realize that the army is limitless, the death march eternal.

Another nine-inch figurine, this one white as fear and immobile as a stalagmite, stands at the raised end of a small, gray seesaw in a straitjacket; weighing down the other end of the seesaw is a single white feather. In lesser hands, Unbalance Ghost would be a one-liner; with Keck, it’s another distillation of a passionate, dark, iconoclastic, and playful spirit.

Sharing the gallery space with Pat Keck are the cerebral, self-effacing abstract paintings of Bert Antonio. These creations look like imaginative solutions to problems Antonio has made up — the dominant shape in one canvas finds its analogue in a cut-out that occupies the next. Antonio is fond of positioning multiple canvases around a central one to form a larger whole — they read like clocks from a civilization that had less interest in telling time than in experiencing it.

At Gallery Kayafas, Joe Johnson’s luminous, meticulously composed color photographs taken at night from the roofs of buildings in Boston and New York are at once humble and grand, quotidian and monumental. Johnson has a cartographer’s eye — his sides of buildings, air shafts, ledges, moldings, windows, and fire escapes suggest old, hand-colored maps. He’s interested in what happens when perspective gets flattened, how a rooftop view collapses one’s sense of distance and depth and produces an orderly tangle of related shapes; the roofs look connected and proximate when in fact they’re separate and distinct. Just as mesas and lakes appear as traversable as the land that surrounds them in the visual language of the atlas, Johnson’s vistas are a form of trompe l’œil.

In Three Buildings, decks and air vents, skylights and railings look as close to each other as cards in a deck. The only indication that you might not be able to walk unimpeded from one roof to the next is the window that appears lower down on the wall of the bright building in the center; its presence alone suggests a wide open space at a height. And there’s almost no telling that the vast blackness of the roof that dominates the space in Flower Pot on Roof represents a steep precipice. For an extended second, the white painted brick building below appears to be within arm’s reach.

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  •   GRAVE MATTERS  |  July 15, 2008
    Entering the small back room at Gallery Kayafas, you feel you’ve been transported into the shadowy pages of a small, mysterious book.
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    In their doll-like stiffness and manufactured hair, Pat Keck's shamelessly wooden, unmistakably hand-hewn figures suggest a descent into the underworld.

 See all articles by: CHRISTOPHER MILLIS