When in Berlin

Loyal conceptual artist that he is, former Valley resident Casey McKee refuses to hog-tie his latest work with his own interpretations of it, instead leaving the art itself open for consumption. But whether or not he admits it (or simply doesn't realize it), McKee's "Berlin Series" -- a body of 12 pieces typified by his signature mixed-media marriage of oil painting and photography that evokes the Victorian Era -- could just as easily be presented as an autobiographical tale of a disgruntled American emigrant struggling to get personal with his new surroundings.

Opening at Scottsdale's Cultural Exchange Gallery, the "Berlin Series" represents a set of images McKee was generating in his head back in July, shortly before he became so fed up with SUVs and President GWB that he ditched his friends and family in his native Phoenix and headed across the Atlantic to put up stakes in Berlin, Germany.

The series depicts -- in three six-foot-by-six-foot pieces and nine smaller works -- the hard-hearted relationship between a man and a woman, or the "non-interaction interaction," as McKee describes it. "They're obviously together," he adds, "but they're kind of indifferent to each other."

And while Berlin may be "an artist's haven," as McKee calls it, cozy and warm relationships -- like his mastery of the German language -- have been slow to establish. "The main thing I was looking for [upon leaving Phoenix] was a drastic change in my life. I felt when things were better than ever, I needed to continue growing and feel challenged," says McKee, 27. "I'm making a good living [in Berlin]. And Berlin is becoming more and more my home. But I lived in Phoenix all my life. I've had friends here for 15 years. I miss First Fridays. I miss the strong community of support. But I wanted to throw myself out there."

So please, don't call his exhibition a homecoming. Instead of welcoming him home, McKee says, "Just say, Welcome back.'"

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Joe Watson