Paul Farwell Keene Jr. was a Philadelphia-area artist and teacher whose work helped raise the visibility of Black American artists. As a self-described “abstract realist,” his story reflects both the accomplishments and the difficulties of African American artists in the 20th century.
Keene was born in Philadelphia and died in Warrington, PA. He earned a reputation at a time when that was exceedingly difficult for artists of his race. He earned three degrees (B.F.A., B.Sc.Ed., and M.F.A.) and taught at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and the Philadelphia College of Art. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
During World War II, Keene enlisted in the Air Force. He attained the rank of lieutenant and served with the Tuskegee Airmen in the 332nd Fighter Group. He used the GI Bill to study at the Academie Julian in Paris. While there, he helped found Gallerie 8, a collective gallery for American artists working in Paris.
Keene exhibited with Picasso and Leger at the Salon de Mai and through Whitney Fellowships directed courses at the Centre D’Art, Port-au-Prince, Haiti between 1952 and 1954.
When Keene returned to the United States he began work as an associate professor at the Philadelphia College of Art. He later left for a professorship at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) in Newtown, Pennsylvania, where he helped to establish a new art department. Keene retired from teaching in 1985.
He was the son of Paul F. Keene Sr and Josephine Hebron, co-founder of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Incorporated. He married Laura Mitchell and they had a son and a daughter.