Chris Appleby on Ken Kiff and Theatre's Floor
I have taken the liberty of connecting Ken’s work with theatre and its floor. Theatre, because it is an unnatural world where ideas are expressed and considered, where intuitions are explored and where the subjective dimension is given credence. Theatre’s floor because it is analogous to Kens’ deep relationship with the rectangle. He searched that shape with such intensity that he regularly scraped back to its surface, at times, like an archaeologist, he scraped it so far back that he put holes in it – deep, indeed, was his exploration of that four cornered place.
Ken was primarily an image maker but his images have nothing to do with depicting the natural world, neither are they style or signature and never the natural world distorted. His images evolve through the process of painting – they are images conjured in a rectangle, they are the residue of time spent “travelling” the rectangle. Ken’s dexterity and remarkable visual literacy enabled him to make a vehicle of painting, a vehicle in which to explore the rectangle. Those journeys in the rectangle are what make Ken’s work authentic.
Ken’s interest in American Abstract Expressionism relates to their painting process and how they developed the rectangle. Their paintings were improvised they are their own concrete reality, objects to be experience in their own right. Their process pushed paint and painting to its material limit, the physical presence of the painting is everything – that was their goal. But, Ken responded to the painting’s presence by extending and deepening his process – it provoked his imagination, like an alchemist, he used it to exercise his intuition, to summon up subjective material. For Ken physical presence triggered a form of “Participation Mystique” there is a big difference, of course, between that and what Ken was doing; Ken would eventually finish the painting, his subjectivity exposed and made conscious.
Ken’s subjective animation had objective consequences it made his colour original and complex, it imbued his marks and gestures with personality and it conjured imagery. His images are like creatures on theatre’s floor, some enter from the wings and others come up from below stage, they do not illustrate stories they signal psychic events. Ken’s work, his process, made him as much of an object as the painting.
Chris Appleby, 2017
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