On a sunny Friday afternoon in early February, entertainers William Burton Binnie and Jeff Grant sit on the patio of Lee Harvey’s dive bar in South Dallas. Binnie, who took it upon himself to show Grant around his hometown, ordered a bucket of Lone Star beers for the table — for “the good old days,” he says.
They have just completed the installation of the two-person exhibition “Murmur”, which opens that evening in Keijsers Koning.
Before moving to New York to create art and eventually teach at Williams College in Massachusetts, Binnie was a fixture in the Dallas art scene. He received his MFA from Southern Methodist University in 2013 and was a founding member of Art Beef, an art collective that ran an experimental space at Exposition Park until 2018.
For Binnie, the exhibition marks a kind of homecoming: it’s her first exhibition in Dallas since she left in 2016. For the gallery, it’s a move.
After 15 years in New York, owner Bart Keijsers Koning left the Lower East Side for space in the Design District. The address, a stone’s throw from the 12.26 and Erin Cluley galleries, was recently occupied by the And/Now gallery, although the space is unrecognizable after some renovations.
Moving to Dallas was a decision made for practical, financial and personal reasons. Keijsers Koning and his wife, Louky, have attended the Dallas Art Fair over the years and have seen the potential in the city and its collectors. Easy access to an international airport was also on the list of deciding factors.
Keijsers Koning says it was a natural first exhibition in the space, both because of Binnie’s connection to the city and because of the interesting connections he sees between Binnie and Grant’s art.
The exhibition features five paintings by Binnie and works by Grant in the form of five drawings and three sculptures in the center of the gallery. The sculptures, which feature a meticulous menagerie of animal figurines under an industrial lamp, set the paradoxical tone. This exhibition is completely serious and completely playful.
Finding the link between the work of the two artists was a happy coincidence. Keijsers Koning recalls an art fair in Manchester, England, where he showed Binnie and Grant’s work.
“There wasn’t much going on,” he said. “So everyone with us watched a lot of work on the show.”
What has become interesting in this meditative “gaze” is the way the two artists reframe ordinary objects or scenes. Grant works with objects—in this exhibit children’s toys—and recontextualizes them. In his drawings, or in their vision, children’s toys lose their innocence, appearing as something much more adult. And yet, his creative tools are found in primary school classes. (You have to see to believe how well he can draw colored pencils.)
Binnie’s work contains a similar tension. Binnie is a figurative painter whose work lies between tragedy and comedy. His minimalist approach to places, people and symbols gives them a sinister charm. It casts shadows on childhood staples, like a smiling snowman and balloon. It evokes the cobwebs of nostalgia in a large-scale piece that depicts the American Bank Building, a now-demolished site familiar to anyone who has passed through Waco for the past 40 years.
Over a drink on the terrace and chicken wings, Binnie explains the importance of this Waco building to Grant – what it means for the aspirations of the city of Waco, the American financial system and explosive architecture. This leads to a broad discussion of how familiar images can evoke larger issues or emotions.
It is clear that these two artists are restless thinkers, always in search of meaning and new ideas, in their own art and in the art of others. In this case, in the work of the other.
“This American Bank coin evokes a lot of feelings of distrust,” Grant says.
“I think familiarity guides an audience toward deep research,” Binnie says. “It’s that familiarity that allows you to discover a room, and all these other things start to bleed.”
“Murmur” runs through March 19 at Keijsers Koning, 150 Manufacturing St., Suite 201. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. For more information, email [email protected], call 469-961-5391 or visit keijserskoning.com.