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ART: Man, Machine and Paint

Local artist's idea takes flight.

Keeling, who rents a studio at Art Works, has been an airplane mechanic for almost 40 years. He arranged for Million Air of Richmond to donate the use of a Learjet 24 and enough fuel for the project.

Although it's likely the first time something like this has happened in Richmond, Keeling says his idea isn't original. "The design concept has been done before. Back in the '60s, I saw an article in an old magazine," he says. "I thought, You know, let's see what it's going to do for us.

"Due to the safety aspect of everything, I couldn't have other people working around the jet engine."

Although Keeling was the only person allowed within 20 feet of the aircraft while it was running, about 12 other Art Works artists were allowed to participate by choosing the paint colors and the order in which they were applied to the panels.

"It was so much fun," Art Works co-founder Glenda Kotchish says. "We argued over the paint colors. We were like, 'I want black!'"

Once the 14 panels were painted — some by throwing paint from a can into the airstream, some by holding a paint-filled brush in it — each piece was named.

"The wind was so tremendous that one panel broke," Kotchish says, "but it turned out really good because we'll reconstruct it. It's called 'Big Bang.'"

The paintings will be on display at Art Works from Aug. 26 through mid-September as part of its "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" exhibit. In addition to the plane-painted pieces, the center is calling for entries for other work involving transportation.

Keeling is proud this project has become a reality. "It's taken about a year to get this done, with logistics, and the plane, and making sure everyone was here," he says. "It was even better than what we thought. When you toss paint into the air, you don't know where it's going to go sometimes." S

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