Daniel Keys and Adam Longatti: a painting match made in a very special ‘Place’
Just call her Ginny Burdick, artistic matchmaker.
Burdick is owner of A Sense of Place in Fresno. The gallery has a warm and friendly vibe that’s as far as you can get from, say, a swanky Carmel gallery’s aloof snippiness. This is a place where you can drop by on a Saturday afternoon and often bump into the gallery’s featured artists working alongside each other in the back room. (They call the tradition “paint days.”) A while back, on one of those days, Burdick made sure to introduce two artists, both on her roster, who didn’t know each other.
Pictured above: Daniel Keys’ painting ‘Red.’ Photo: A Sense of Place
Pictured above: Daniel Keys’ painting ‘Red.’ Photo: A Sense of Place
She knew they would get along and pestered them until they met. Why? Their artistic styles complemented each other. They each had similar ways of looking at the world. She figured their personalities would mesh.
Daniel Keys, meet Adam Longatti.
Adam Longatti, meet Daniel Keys.
Burdick was right. The two artists, both with deep roots in the central San Joaquin Valley, became friends.
“I knew they’d hit it off,” Burdick says.
The result is a show titled “New Works,” a two-artist exhibition that opens Thursday, March 7, at the gallery, for ArtHop, and runs through March 30. An artists’ reception will be held 1-5 p.m. Saturday, March 9.
You might think that a successful two-person gallery show is all about putting two artists together whose subject matter or technique is the same. Or, perhaps, it’s about playing off the differences between them, with the curator making the contrasts in the two bodies of work big and bold.
But in the case of Keys and Longatti, a lot of it is about the chemistry between them as artists and friends. I could sense that chemistry the moment I sat down with Longatti and Keys for a conversation. (It helps that they recently took a road trip together to an art workshop in Scottsdale, Ariz.; you get to know someone well on a drive through the desert.) You can tell they love making art. And they love making good art.
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As Burdick puts it in the introduction to a fascinating interview she conducted with the two as part of the show’s publicity material: “They find kinship in their attention to craftsmanship, their logic, that grounds their work and allows their paintings to become emotionally charged.”
A third bond is their education. Keys, who was home schooled, is a self-taught artist. He eventually latched on to a book about painting by Richard Schmid that was pivotal to his self-education. Longatti did have a formal art education, earning a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of New Mexico and a master’s at Fresno State, but says, “I didn’t learn a thing that mattered from formal training. I worked it out for myself.”
And the fourth bond is the valley itself. Both men grew up here. Their paintings are rooted here, in this place.
For longtime followers of the valley’s visual arts scene, Longatti’s name is a familiar one. He has spent nearly 15 years mining the richness and diversity of the valley’s landscapes, a mission that is seemingly impossible for him to exhaust. (“I just keep finding more things to paint,” he says.) Many, many years ago, back in 2005, I wrote a feature piece about him in The Bee as he created a new painting in just a few hours, from scratch, in front of my eyes, as I documented the experience. (It’s one of my all-time favorite pieces to report and write, by the way.)
When he studied art at the University of New Mexico, Longatti was surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. The light in New Mexico is vivid, even harsh, and the skies explode with drama. It isn’t like that here. The skies of the Central Valley are softer, more muted. The light doesn’t bewitch; it merely beckons. But that doesn’t matter to Longatti: It’s his light. He knows it well.
Along with Fresno, Longatti has gallery representation in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Keys, on the other hand, probably isn’t as well known as Longatti in the valley. But people across the country (and beyond) who follow celebrated painters? They know him. (Burdick tells a story about how an out-of-town visitor walked into the gallery, saw a postcard featuring Keys’ work on the counter and was flabbergasted to learn he was represented in Fresno. “Well, if you want to meet him, he’s actually working in the back right now,” Burdick said cheerily.)
His numerous awards include the Portrait Society of America’s “Draper Grand Prize 2018” award. His work has appeared on the covers of numerous magazines, including Art of the West (twice), American Artist, American Art Collector, Plein Air Magazine, and the premier European art publication, Pratique des Arts.
He’s represented in Scottsdale, Jackson Hole, Billings, Colorado Springs and Denver. This show at A Sense of Place will be his first in his hometown.
While landscapes are Longatti’s main thing, for Keys it has been flowers and still lifes. “From the time I was a small boy, I grew flowers, plants, dug in the garden,” he says. “When I began to paint, I painted flowers.”
And in the name of trying something new, Keys has also been painting more portraits recently. But even when he depicts people, flowers and nature are still an essential part of his style.
In a wonderful example of crossover between the two artists, Keys painted Longatti’s two children, Ayla and Jonah, in a portrait titled “Curious Nature,” that is lush with — what else? — beautiful flowers.
It is a striking image. Jonah locks eyes with the viewer in a calm, measured stare, and I immediately thought of an interplay between the innocence of childhood and a beyond-his-years wisdom that is, perhaps, a premonition of the man he is to become. Meanwhile, Aya is distracted by a flower, bringing a sense of youthful whimsy to the scene.
Keys painted the portrait at Fresno State, where Longatti has taught fine art (with an emphasis on painting, drawing and watercolor) for many years. The work space there has a gorgeous north light in the winter, and when Longatti offered to let Keys use it, he enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
In fact, Keys will be in that space as an instructor for the California State University Summer Arts program and festival. Longatti is the painting course coordinator, and he asked Keys — who teaches around the world and stars in his own series of instructional videos on DVD — to help out.
They will be teachers together, then. It will be yet one more bond between two gifted artists.