First published: Summer 2015
I first came across Carlo Keshishian’s work on the Outside In website a couple of years ago. It struck me, and still strikes me, as having a remarkable intensity. Textures that look like coral reefs or cross-sections of giant trees turn out, on closer inspection, to consist of thousands of miniscule marks: sometimes dots, sometimes densely-packed letters, sometimes closely synchronised blocks of line. It is almost as if the marks are compacted, under some obscure pressure, so that there is a wealth of compressed invention; yet these are sometimes quite large works, that have taken months or years of sustained application to achieve. So it is no surprise to find that Keshishian sometimes works for hours at a stretch (as with many artists, music is an important accompaniment): he told me that to begin with time goes slowly, but that it then accelerates once he is well into the process.
Perhaps because I was writing a book about doodling, it came as no surprise to discover that his early work had stemmed from compulsive doodling at school (he was sent to a school for pupils with learning difficulties). These early works have a restless, happenstance feel to them: words, faces and patterns compete with one another, as if in some visual equivalent of background noise. But where other doodlers might have left off, it is as if Keshishian could not or would not stop; in fact, he was told to do his doodles on separate bits of paper from his class work. Sheets of words followed, in something like a colourful version of a stream of consciousness, with letters expanding and shrinking to fill the available space, but still easily legible. These are almost the raw ingredients of his later work, but they are still too close to the surface, perhaps more like private graffiti.
In 1997 Keshishian started a 2-year B-Tech (Bachelor of Technology) course in Art and Design at West Thames College: this was the point at which he began to turn his classroom doodles into larger works. At this point his drawings were still largely based on writing. A work like Picture Worth 1000 Words (1998–99) was written/drawn directly onto canvas, as were his early “Diary” drawings. They could be seen as a peculiar form of transcription: in fact, the text for his later “Diary” drawings (2010 onwards) was written first on a PC and then drawn, changes in the colour of the computerised text enabling him to keep track of where he was and avoiding it getting too far ahead of the drawing. Obviously the dense furrows of text in the drawing are far less easily legible: it is almost as if these diary entries, which are quite frank descriptions of events in his life, have been buried or obscured; or rather, they are there, but the process of their inscription have turned them into something like pictures of writing (and behind that, of the thinking represented by it).