I wonder where he’s off to, this man in his red suit. Striding purposefully out of the frame towards something, someone, or somewhere; or is he simply hot-footing it away from something dark before anyone notices? Look at the way he isn’t quite grounded on the grey road. Isn’t there something sinister about the absence of shadows? Ghosts cast neither shadows on the road nor reflections in mirrors. Is he a ghost, an apparition? Apart from the absence of shadows he seems real enough, solid, and well-rounded even. But there is something odd; and he is striding past the all-too-sanitised facades of a late-60s neurotic urban street. Other paintings from the same year, such as a dead woman on a lounge floor surrounded by disinterested guests, present life as calmly awry inside those bungalows.
Street Walker 1969 was first exhibited in 1970 at Barry Lett Galleries in Auckland in Killeen’s first one-man show. The painting is one of the best examples of his early and quite prolific figurative phase. Immediately following Street Walker Killeen’s oeuvre took a long exploratory turn from which emerged, in 1978, the cut outs for which he is most well-known.
This striding man is on the edge of something in two senses. The painting is on the cusp of Killeen’s gear-shift from figures and space bounded by the frame, towards forms floating freely across the wall. Street Walker is on the right side of the cusp. It is not the tentative exploration of new territory. Here Killeen displays all the confidence of a painter who has worked it out, who takes the task of picture making confidently in his stride. However, Killeen has his man speeding towards the edge of something uncertain. He’s moving too quickly for the frame. Isn’t he a little too far to the left to be really accommodated by the frame. Blink and he’s gone! Where to?
Previously published in The Masterpiece Auction, 14 June 2007, Art+Object the 21st Century Auction House, Auckland, pp42-43.