This is Ken Kiff

By Gwylym Owen

Ken Kiff, RA (29 May 1935 – 15 February 2001) was an English symbolic artist, was born in Dagenham and trained at Hornsey School of Art 1955-61. He came to emphasis in the 1980s thanks to the championship of art critic Norbert Lynton, and a cultural climate intent on re-assessing figurative art similar to the Royal Academy’s ‘New Spirit in Painting’ exhibition in 1981. He started exhibiting at Nicola Jacob’s gallery, moved to Fischer Fine Art in 1987 and finally to the Marlborough Gallery in 1990, by which get older he had begun exhibiting internationally and had appear in in major public collections. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1991 and became Associate Artist at the National Gallery 1991-93. His 30-year teaching career at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College influenced a generation of students.

Despite his success, Kiff’s slant was never a pleasing one. His adherence to the pictorial values of modernism, his deep reverence for artists such as Klee, Miro or Marc Chagall, and his ideas virtually painting were often at odds subsequently prevailing assumptions. In contemporary debates not in the distance off from abstraction anti figuration he tended to push past the battle-lines: ‘colour thinking’ as opposed to ‘image thinking’, pictorial form next to representational meaning, in order to get at something beneath their seeming differences. Images themselves arose out of the stuff of painting and an intimate association with a technique. His deep personal knowledge of poetry and music informed his prudence of a painting’s structure. He axiom colour in terms of images and images in terms of colour, which constituted, as he saw it, “the natural profundity of painting”.

Colour and colour associations interacted in his paintings when a range of images evoking the blissfully luminous and lyrical to the comic and terrifyingly grotesque. ‘Fantasy’ as he maxim it ‘was a quirk of thinking not quite reality’. The matter-of-fact imagery of streets, houses, trees, animals and people was configured in imitation of dreamlike encounters and goings-on in a exaggeration that invited the viewer into an internal world for eternity using the external world as its subject-matter.

‘The Sequence’ begun in the 1970s, and by the become old of his death, constituting nearly 200 works represented a striking formal innovation. Regarded by Kiff as a single work, it was a series of pictures (acrylic upon paper), forming a chain, repeating and developing imagery and colour, and allowing their networks of link to impinge on and produce laterally across many formats, with a single spirit carrying them along.

By the late 1980s his range of media had expanded to append woodcuts, monotypes, lithography and etching. He enjoyed how additional ways of involved with materials, the grain of the wood, for example, or the wax in the encaustics, could extend his visual thinking and force him to make decisions more quickly. He took good pleasure in collaborating subsequent to master printmaking technicians such as Dorothea Wight and Mark Balakjian in Britain, Erik Hollgersson in Sweden, and Garner Tullis in the US.

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