Molly Keen is a Visual Artist specializing in large-scale murals with emphasis on detailed imagery and shifting perspectives. Keen’s most regarded body of work was created while traveling by bicycle, bus, and foot throughout Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
Keen was raised in Seattle, WA alongside 4 siblings and received her BFA from Washington State University. Her mother, Cindy Keen, was an artist and passed down creative passion and encouragement of art at home. At 18, upon the passing of her mother, Molly became acutely aware of her mother’s influence in her artwork and chose her artist name, Molly Keen, in her honor.
Keen’s career took off in Oakland, California with an education position as a Recreational Therapist for participants with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and it is where she painted her first mural. In Teaching Art Therapy to over 40 people she experienced the impact and healing capabilities that art could have on groups and individuals. Many relearned basic skills, some learned how to write again, and this created a powerful setting of unbelievable transformations. Keen’s family has a genetic link to Alzheimer’s and through the experience, it sparked her interest to travel and learn a new language. As she began her travels through South America, she began to witness the different realities people live within.
Perspective shifts are found in Keen’s work as she is known for her detail and intricate play with poetry and colors. Her works activate a variety of perspectives, for example, in “Siete de Las Estrellas” one may view the iconic 7 pointed star of Cabanaconde, Peru with a ribbon flowing across the piece as the focal point. However, as one engages closer, an entirely different world full of historical images, the plant life of the Cabanaconde region, and traditional native styles of female dress are revealed. Additionally in, “To the Moon and Back” one may find the moon glowing at a distance, yet a detailed inspection will find this glimmer to be filled with intricate verse and songs written by local musicians and poets. The writing is scattered and subtle but rich with messages central to the Oakland Neighborhood and unique to each musician’s story. Keen engages the audience to experience not only a beautifully wrought, large-scale vision but also noticing the intricacies and poetry that play from within a more intimate field of view.
Her abundant collaboration with local communities and commitment to creative transparency throughout the entire mural-making process is a cornerstone of Keen’s approach to public art. “I like to convey through my work not only my personal sense of involvement and excitement with the communities that I represent but also the own unique creative character that the people and places evoke. This involvement is not merely a constituent of my own vision but is also expressed by local involvement in the interactive painting lessons and workshops that I facilitate.” In conjunction with the Bayview Opera house, she organized and directed the public production of a collaborative mural. This event featured not only a painting but also included live music, food, and activities, which in the end, produced not only an enduring local feature but a community event in the process of its creation.
Likewise, as a key member of the creatively eclectic “Biketopia Music Collective”, she traveled in excess of two thousand miles by bicycle, collectively transporting, by bicycle alone, 1,000 pounds of pedal-powered generators, lighting and musical equipment. This immense collective effort brought to bear some 35 unique art and music festivals, which took place throughout the West Coast of North America, from Canada to California. In her engagement with the Biketopia project, Keen generated local participation through a series of “live painting” exhibits that became one of the main attractions of the events.
For Keen, the goal within the context of public art is to combine the technical skill of an artist, the training of an Art Therapist, and the experience of life and work in a diverse assortment of local communities around the globe. This produces works that are visionary, not only in their scale but through the collaborative intimacy of its creative voice. She seeks to use the creative gifts passed from her late mother, now honed into professional tools, to produce activated community spaces that speak with a voice not merely her own, but one drawn equally from the traditions, history, and the very individuals that will call the places she visits and works within, home.