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March 07, 2003

Free Views -- Ken Kewley

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

For all the bitching I do, and enjoy doing, about the carrying-on of the self-proclaimed art world, I nonetheless fairly often run across current artists whose work I enjoy. (My batting average may be lousy, but I do occasionally connect.) Surprise: they often aren't artists whom the critics or profs take much -- or any -- note of, which sometimes makes me wonder if my real complaint isn't so much with the art world itself as with the opinion-making class. But -- hurried, cowardly and lazy soul that I am -- I'm not going to wrestle with that question now.

Back to the talent. Ken Kewley is one of my recent finds. I saw one of his shows about a year ago. Here's a decent selection of his work; here's his own website, also featuring a good selection.

These are pop-up images, so be sure to click on them to see larger versions of these images. But the pictures in real life are also very small -- about three by five inches.

Kewley reminds me, in a good way, of the Bloomsbury painters -- modest, yet saturated and aglow with pattern and color. He cuts so directly to what's pleasing and interesting that it's easy to ignore how good he is at dodging and avoiding self-importance and would-be momentousness. He seems to want nothing to do with the "gotta be great" game, and intead seems to want to work some early-modernist turf -- ie., to approach his art not as breakthrough or liberation but as style and exploration.

Which strikes me as a daring and witty choice in itself. Modernism has so often made itself out to be -- has made art itself out to be -- a matter of anxieties, breakthroughs and innovations (and baloney to that, is my view) that it comes as a luscious suprise to see it treated as a given, an established style as open to being mined for pleasure as, say, classicism. To my mind, this is terrific. It's like accepting and working with a movie genre -- occupying your imagination and skills with finding ways of making it yield something fresh and vivid, rather with than (yawn) undermining and subverting it.

Anyway, fancy blah-blah to one side: a luscious and pleasing clarity of color and idea! Witty formats! A serene and poised yet alert gestalt! Nice balance between abstraction and representation! The beauty of early modernism minus the stress and bombast! I'm probably missing a lot of what's there -- but that's great too. Words now fail me -- but I'm happy to report that I get a lot out of looking and re-looking at Kewley's paintings and collages, and that I'd love to live with a bunch of them.

Any current artists you're crazy about?



posted by Michael at March 7, 2003


Bloomsbury? Really? I was thinking more Stuart Davis, especially the one on the right.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on March 7, 2003 10:15 PM

Hey Aaron, the collages are like Stuart Davis in many ways, aren't they. I'm more prone to think "Bloomsbury" because I find they also have an intimacy (especially when you realize how small they are) and informality that reminds me of Bloomsbury. But the emphasis on clarity and shape is pure Davis, very true. Are you a Davis fan?

Thanks to all for pointing out that my links weren't working. Bizarrely, I was able to solve the problem only by dropping the "www" out of the web address in the a href="" thing. Never ran into that before. I think I've always included the www. Can any of you brighter-than-I people explain what's up? Thanks.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2003 1:26 PM

Ken Kewley's website has changed servers. It is now at I know he has plans to update it within the next few weeks. He will be expanding it by adding an archives and a "web gallery" of current works. So keep checking in on it from time to time! Cheers Tanya

Posted by: Tanya on April 17, 2003 10:39 AM

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