I took my family to a talk by Ian McKeever at the Ferens Gallery in Hull. McKeever is regarded as one of the most significant painters of his generation. He grew up in Withernsea, not far from Driffield where I was born in East Yorkshire. McKeever often talks about the significant influence his early years had on his development as an artist, particularly the wide-open landscapes and expansive nature of the Yorkshire coast and countryside.
Since the mid-1980s McKeever became engaged with pure painting, which although it appears abstract, is concerned with the perception of recognition and meaning. He is particularly interested in light and its enigmatic impact on human perception.
Some key takeaways from the talk are below. I found many of these quite profound and they really helped me approach my own work more confidently:
“A painting is finished when I don’t know what to do next.”Ian McKeever
“Time flows horizontally, unlike water. We remember backwards but repeat forwards.”
“A painting starts in the mind. I don’t start with a form, e.g. a chair, I start with an emotion. This can be vague so I try to make that emotion more concrete.”
“We meet a painting body to body – breathing out or breathing in.”
“Temperament is the first thing we see of an artist in their work. I think about how gravity affects all of my paintings.”
“Traditionally we see vanishing points but there are 3 types: perceptual (e.g. Pollock), shallow (work sits on a surface) and hovering (e.g. Rothko).”
“We are all made of light and it allows our consciousness to see. But what if a painting gave back light? I paint as if the painting itself is giving out light.”
“There are 2 types of colour: colour on a surface and colour all the way through things (an artist can do this). A white painting can be made lighter but a black painting becomes lighter. Transparency in paint shows depth and adds consciousness. Black paintings are often not black. There are many types of white. Colour should be wedded not decorative.”
“I use canvas the size of a body. I don’t like to compete with a large gallery space. Size and scale are very different.”