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Keith J. Varadi's Muted Oil Paintings at David Shelton Gallery

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Keith J. Varadi's oil paintings have something you can't quite put your finger on. They seem unexpectedly muted and soft. Even the boldest colors have a quiet quality to them.

That's because these oil paintings are copies of oil paintings, the original discarded in favor of this second life. It's a whole process that the Brooklyn artist developed to make the centuries-old act of painting fresh and surprising to him.

He starts off by making a painting on a stretched canvas. He then stretches a raw canvas over that painting while the paint is still wet and pushes the paint through the raw canvas without using a paint brush. Sometimes he leaves the end result alone, other times he may add paint to the stain, again without using a brush. Painting without a paintbrush? That's almost a cliché, but it makes for some beautiful results.

Fifteen paintings made through this experimental, limited manner are on display at David Shelton Gallery in the exhibition "Maurice." Most are a little larger than a notebook, at 12 X 9 inches. They are small, highly contained works. Some even have a thin border of paint around the edges that seems to keep it all in.

Overall, they are mostly multicolored paintings full of deliberate marks, busy with abstract splotches and indiscernible forms. Is that a man in Crux Tug? A key? Who can say for sure. They have depth to them, a sense of history. Other works are slightly reminiscent of patterns, such as the camo-like effect of Berms.

In several works, the artist doesn't fill the whole canvas, despite its already small size. Toner and Hawking, hung in tandem, are deliberating left bare in places on the canvas, as if half-finished, or half-started. At the same time, the canvas is as much a part of the painting and the materiality as the paint itself. Varadi even likes to say that these paintings aren't oil on canvas -- they're oil and canvas. It's an important distinction.

"Keith J. Varadi: Maurice" at David Shelton Gallery, 3909 Main, runs now through June 15. For more information, call 832-538-0924 or visit davidsheltongallery.com.

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