Coming to terms with Keller’s oeuvre or putting her into art historical categories seems almost impossible and would not do justice to her wide-ranging, multifarious and highly creative work. Keller’s experimental practice spans painting, drawing, sculpture and weaving as she moves freely between mediums to explore geometric form, space, the intellectual and physical participation of the spectator, and above all, the critical inquiries into the role of art in society. Her artistic production, which ranges over more than six decades, is full of new beginnings and can only be grasped if dissolution of boundaries and continuous re-invention are seen as a principle of her art. Her entire career was and is marked by resistance to prevailing trends she encountered, whether artistic or political.
Lilly Keller has always circled around the center of the Swiss artistic scene and has become a star within it. For curators and art historians, she has remained on the periphery. Despite having been one of the earliest artist of her generation who was exhibited internationally in London and Tokyo, her exceptional contribution to the Biennale de Tapisserie in Lausanne and, above all, her central role in the art scene of Bern in the 50s to the 70s around figures like Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoerri, Bernhard Luginbühl, Dieter Roth and Meret Oppenheim, Lilly Keller has never reached the fame and publicity of some of her peers. Keller’s unwillingness to reduce her art to recognizable and identifiable patterns and her constant drive to start all over again, promoted her lifelong position outside the international artistic establishment.
Characteristic for Keller is her openness to new materials, media and forms of expression throughout her whole career. Having started her art education under Ernst Keller and Johannes Itten in 1949 at the Zürich University of Arts, she quickly grew impatient with the academic system and moved to Bern. There, she began to experiment with expressive painting. Owing a lot to the American abstract expressionist, Sam Francis, whom she met in 1955 (Sam Francis was a fervent supporter of her), Keller’s painting always showed close affinities to gestural painting and bright expressive colors.
In 1953, Keller started to experiment with tapestry, “drawing with wool”, to “tame her wild painting”, as she puts it herself. Intrigued by the clarity, precision and accuracy of weaving, tapestry was of central importance to her oeuvre into the mid-1980s, when her interest shifted towards other materials. Between 1984 and 2009 she worked intensely with glass, which opened unknown possibilities to her and fascinated her due to its complex reflections, shades and moiré patterns. Yet, besides her paintings, tapestries, installations, sculptures and collages, the production of books resembling small sculptures and often employing collage, has occupied her throughout her career.
In more recent years, Lilly Keller has been re-discovered by art history. In 2010, the first publication about the artist, a monograph Lilly Keller. Das Leben. Das Werk (Lilly Keller. Her Life. Her Work) by Andreas Bellasi and Ursula Riederer appeared. In 2012, the film Lilly Keller Kunst der Entgrenzung (Lilly Keller. The Art of Dissolving Boundaries) by Peter Battanta was released and shown repeatedly on Swiss public televison. Most recently, a monograph by Fredi Lerch was published in May 2015, entitled Lilly Keller. Künstlerin. Ein literarisches Porträt. The book was awarded a prize for the most beautiful Swiss book in 2015.
Lilly Keller lived and worked in Thusis, Switzerland until she passed away on January 2, 2018.