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FThe point of art

“Every painting is a little battle,” says Malibu artist Kathleen Keifer about the artistic process. “You know in your mind what you want, and you have to get there. It’s a little struggle, until you get it, and then it’s denouement from there.”

Her works are on exhibit at McLean Gallery. The majority of her paintings are in the pointillist style, a method of painting in which the background is covered with tiny points of pure color that blend together when seen from a distance.

“The thing that gets me excited is color,” she says, while other painters look first at line or subject matter. She estimates her pointillist canvasses use 70 colors per square inch. “They mix optically. It’s like capturing the moment.”

The McLean exhibit is exclusively of Malibu scenes. “With three kids,” she says, “I don’t get out of Malibu too often.” She is mother to three girls: Lucy, 7 and in second/third grade at Webster Elementary; Emily, 6 and in kindergarten at Webster; and Claire, 3 and a preschooler at the Garden of Childhood.

“So three mornings a week, I’m free to paint,” she says, although before a show she will paint between 5 and 7 a.m. After Keifer leaves Claire off at preschool, she spends four hours painting plein-air on Point Dume. “It’s so enchanted. One time a fox came up to me.”

She discovers spots to paint while on her morning runs. “My eyes are wide open. From my point of view, there’s too many paintings and not enough time to do them.”

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These days, while Lucy and Emily do homework on the family’s dining room table, Keifer sets up her easel in the dining room. “So of course Claire wants to start painting then.”

She takes Lucy and Emily plein-air painting. “I definitely teach them. I won’t let them paint on a white canvas. I’ll make them do the underpainting, and I’ll critique it.” Lucy critiques back. “She hates dots. Lucy loves the artwork of [Malibu artist] Fay Singer. She says, ‘See Mom, no dots.’ Lucy is a fan of Van Gogh and Fay Singer.”

She sometimes teaches painting at Webster — “A little art history and then a little project in the style of the artist.” For example, while teaching about Michelangelo, she copies God’s hand from the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Adam,” leaving the other hand for the students to paint — each student lying on his or her back with a drawing taped to the underside of each desk.

At the kindergarten level, she says, the students are free and each paints wonderfully. By second or third grade, she says, “They’re sophisticated enough to know what it ‘should’ look like, or they compare themselves to one another.”

The gallery showing includes a number of canvasses of Malibu Pier. “Series paintings are fun. You have the same subject matter and can create different moods. To me, the pier is haystacks.” Don’t expect to see exact representations. “Sometimes, it’s dull to paint things as they are,” she says. “I’m not a photographer. I take liberties, and I take great liberties with color. I’m reinterpreting nature to my own vision.”

The landscapes and the dots were not part of Keifer’s vocabulary until she moved to Malibu, in 1996. “When you’re an Easterner and you come here,” Keifer says, “this place sort of knocks you over. You never have those vistas in the East.”

She was born in Chicago and spent eight years in New England, and she has been painting since youth. She met and married her husband, Jim, when they were in art school at Notre Dame University. {CQ} While she worked as a book illustrator, he worked in the toy industry, for Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley and now Mattel, where he is “in charge of puzzles and games.” She says he is her best critic, “and he’s always right on.” Her work was recently accepted into the L.A. County Museum’s sales gallery.

While she seems to adore the process of making art, she admits, “Every time you sell a painting, it’s a thrill. Think of what’s out there to compete with.”

“Interpreting Beauty,” with paintings by Kathleen Keifer, is on exhibit through June 13, reception for the artist Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m., at McLean Gallery at the Malibu Country Mart. Tel. 310.456.2226.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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