In Keith Garcia’s paintings, objects of desire are often very far away.  Stages in the distance tantalize with floodlights and hot color.   Lush hills are visible through the windows of sparsely decorated living rooms.  A warming fire beckons the viewer’s eye across vast expanses of icy water.  Perfectly round full moons hang, watchfully, in skies probed by searchlights.  Other recent paintings situate tiny characters and miniature objects on great featureless expanses.  In “Alternate Timeline,” human beings hang in space against a blue-green background.  They’re very still, self-contained, and discrete.  They’ve got no particular place to go.  Like stars in the firmament, they’re just there. 

Accuracy: Keith Garcia

In busy group shows, Garcia’s stark landscapes, ultra-clean lines, and weird but unassuming scenes rendered in soft acrylic color are often as refreshing as a scoop of rainbow sherbet.  Gathered and presented together, though, they generate a curious magnetic resonance — one that might even be called heat. “Eyes Without a Place,” which has been extended through November 26 at Deep Space Gallery (77 Cornelison), presents forty-nine fetching dream-slices, including an unusually boisterous installation on the western wall.  The show swaps some of the mystery that has always shrouded Garcia’s surreal paintings for something akin to legibility. It reveals Garcia as a painter deeply interested in the dynamics of distance, remoteness, attention, and, above all, patience.

Alienation, though, doesn’t show up very often.  Garcia’s work does not radiate discontent or longing.  If his tiny people are far from anything consequential, they don’t seem too exercised about it.  His is a world in waiting.  A marvel is on the horizon, but it hasn’t yet materialized.  The attitude struck by his little characters can best be summed up by the title of an older acrylic: “It Didn’t Start Yet, But That’s OK.”

Still Room: Keith Garcia

Nevertheless, the spotlights are on. In his paintings, cones of light shine down on silhouettes of drum kits, P.A. speakers, angled microphones, and bass amplifiers, all rendered in meticulous miniature by the artist.  They’re contained on stage areas in hot little rectangles, frames within the larger frames, viewed from the nosebleed seats.  Barriers of color separate the performance area from the few spectators, who, in a clever touch rich with deep symbolism, float in pools of water.  Very few of them are thrashing about.  Instead, they bob in place, partially submerged, out of arms reach of their few neighbors, heads turned toward the floodlights.  The show has their attention, but notably, it isn’t rapt.  Sometimes Garcia tucks his rectangle into the black recesses of a cavern, creating another impediment to access.  Stalactites make the opening to the cave feel like a hungry mouth, which makes the stage a stilled tongue, capable of speech, but too reticent to utter anything.  

Anybody who has ever stood in a crowded theater before a concert starts knows the despair that attends the wait for the show to begin. Will the musicians ever show up? You’d expect to see a touch of that foot-tapping restlessness in Garcia’s paintings.  Instead, his stage scenes are still, placid, and devoid of acrimony and popular demand.  There’s no sense of urgency on either side of the fourth wall. The band may take the stage momentarily; they might be there in a few hours. They might never come. Garcia’s festivalgoers give the impression that they’ll float on no matter what happens. No one is storming the stage or even getting out of the water. In “Accuracy,” a pair of vintage station wagons park on a wide and featureless grey buffer between the empty performance area and the swimming hole. “Art of Channeling” stashes the stage in the corner of the frame, in a cavern attached to a ledge as narrow as a diving board. Beneath the promontory are a pair of pools, each sprinkled thinly with bathers. A single spotlight scours the night sky, suggesting that the real show might be happening somewhere beyond the frame, and the stage is a mere distraction.

Night Swim: Keith Garcia

Other paintings in “Eyes Without a Place” reinforce that feeling. In “A Night Ablaze,” the main attraction is a great sneering land formation that juts out of a calm sea.  A high bridge tethers the rocky face to the cliffs behind it, and smoke rises from a bonfire the base of its stony jaw. This great godhead is attended by eight floating humans with bodies hardly larger than a pin. Just as we are in the stage pictures, we find ourselves in the presence of a silent mouth with a tongue both bright and mute. Calmly, implacably, the swimmers await a message that may never come.

Garcia is a painter of considerable imagination, skill, and dexterity, and he isn’t above showing off. Because he’s got the talent and inclination to work small, his pieces reward thorough investigation. He likes to spike his scenes with funny little storytelling details: a diving board on an ice floe, faerie lights attached to a telephone pole, smoke streaming from the mouth of a human figure, tiny shadows, scrub-plants, and the tint on the windshield of a camper van.  He’s also fond of the synthetic qualities of acrylic paint — its unearthly flatness — and loves to create low, flat windowless walls and steamroller-flat campgrounds and parking lots. Those fond of the hallucinatory landscapes and faded pastel colors of the American Southwest and the Valley of the Sun might situate some of Garcia’s scenes there. Really, they’re projections of an inner state, one of a not-unpleasant incompleteness and preternatural calm, full of dangling conversations, open questions, and long, long waits, If we’ve got the patience, he’s left the door to this strange world wide open.  

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...