If the name Jake Keeler sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the only artist out there who somehow, has cohesively blended fantasy and fly fishing. Formally trained, Keeler’s unique style was shaped by his love for heavy metal, Dungeons & Dragons and his passion for fly fishing. So what do aggressive, heavily distorted guitar riffs and demonic fire breathing dragons have to do with fly fishing? Obviously – nothing at all. Yet Keeler’s contrasting inspirations result in a style that really works, and it’s a style that’s his, and his alone. 

Distortion Pedal Speyer

Gonterakus The Conjurer

Simms: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background?

Keeler: Sure. I have what I’d consider to be a strong formal arts background. I’ve got a bachelors in studio arts and a masters in fine arts in painting and drawing.

Simms: So I think it’s safe to say, your subject matter is pretty – distinctive? Can you talk a little bit about how that developed?

Keeler: Absolutely. I grew up listening to, and still love heavy metal. I was also obsessed with fantasy art and books like Dungeons & Dragons and thinks like that. And like fantasy junkie, metalhead kids, I was also drawn to graffiti, skateboard graphics and album artwork. Take all of those interests and my upbringing, blend that with my formal training and it kind of spits out my style. 

Simms How about in terms of the subject matter? Fly Fishing and fantasy isn’t exactly a logical combination.

Keeler: Again, because I was so obsessed with metal and things of that nature, skulls and skeletons just kind of naturally ended up appearing in pretty much all my artwork.

Simms: So when did these skulls and skeletons find their way into your fishing inspired works?

Keeler: Haha. It was kinda weird actually. A friend of mine asked me to do a drawing of a fish. At the time, I don’t think I had ever even drawn a fish which is kinda funny because I grew up fishing. He wanted a rainbow trout so that’s what I did. When I was done, I don’t know, it was kinda that light bulb moment I guess. I was like, ‘damn, I should have been drawing fish all along’. Of course, I still loved skulls and skeletons and all that crazy stuff but I found myself drawing more and more fish pieces. There for a while it was like I had two bodies of work, my fish stuff and my fantasy stuff. Eventually, I realized I really wanted one body of work so I began to think how I could merge the two. I had been seeing lots of commissioned artwork out there of people holding fish and I was like, man I’d love to do that but you know what, I’m gonna make the people into demons and necromancers. Haha. When I sat down and actually did it, it was like ‘yeah, this is exactly what I want to see’ and I’ve been at it ever since. 

Simms: Are most of your pieces referenced from imagery?

Keeler: Not necessarily. I really kind of try and tap into again, the fantasy of the experience. I really look at it much like my own fishing memories. You know, they are never super accurate. They are full of exaggerations, misinterpretations, or emotions or psychological states that inform what you actually remember and what actually happened. I know that’s kind of deep and philosophical but I suppose that’s more of what you see on the surface of the artwork I create. It could be you, me, or some fantastical character, so it really reflects back on the viewer. That’s how I look at it anyways.

Simms: That kind of folds back into your passion for music. Lyrics and music might mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another person. In other words, it’s not always literal. Does that make sense?

Keeler: Exactly. As artists, whether it’s music or visual arts, we kind of set the guide poles but leave it to the viewer or listener to create their own stories around the art they see or the music they hear.

Simms: You’ve mentioned before that you were drawn to Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy novels because in a sense they took you away to these imaginary worlds and allowed you to escape. I would imagine art allows a similar escape. What about fishing? 

Keeler: No doubt about it – for me any ways. The practice of making art in the moment and the practice of fly fishing in the moment are one in the same for me. I’ts the same mental space, it’s the same emotional space, physiological space. Everything around it, the training, experience, prepping, it’s thinking about how you will do it better while you’re not doing it. Then, when you are in the moment and you are doing it, your focused on execution and nothing else. Whether it’s art or fishing, it’s the same.

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