At a recently Exhibition Advisory Group meeting at the Royal West of England Academy, of which I’m a member, it was agreed that the RWA will now work towards a major exhibition of Ken Kiff’s work, hopefully to include examples of work by both the major artists who influenced him and of younger artists influenced by him. As things stand at present, this will be curated by the artist James Fisher and myself, working closely with Anna Kiff, who is responsible for her father’s estate. We are also very fortunate to have the support of John Talbot, who has a substantive collection of Ken Kiff’s work, particularly the Sequence.
Obviously it’s very early days as yet, and there is a long way to go before this project starts to take shape. However, having worked with Ken Kiff for several years on the book Ken Kiff’s Sequence (1999), as its editor and an author alongside Norbert Lynton and Martha Kapos, I’m delighted to be part of this project.
Ken Kiff remains an artist more respected by other painters and devoted members of the public than by the critical establishment that holds authority within the art world and ultimately determines reputation and financial value. The reasons for Ken Kiff’s ambivalent status are complex and in fact go to the heart not only of how we currently think about contemporary art and artists, but also touch on more fundamental issues about our presuppositions regarding in the world in which we live. Anyone familiar with the range of Kiff’s work overall will at once recognise that, in addition to being an extraordinary painter (particularly as a colourist) and print-maker, he had a an astonishingly inclusive vision. This ran from evocations of the everyday – Posting a Letter , the whimsical – From the sea to the shore , the profoundly moving – Talking with a psychoanalyst: night sky and Walking (the dead father), to extraordinary landscapes – Tree by the River and Yellow Hill and Deep River, confessional images – Anxiety, images that suggest folklore – Cottage in a field, and the visionary – Orange sun. To my mind it is this inclusivity, along with the sense of connectivity between these diverse images, that is ultimately the most significant aspect of his work.