Ken Currie | Painted Interpretations

Ken Currie | Painted Interpretations


Paintings don’t have meanings as such. I don’t sit down with an idea and illustrate
it – it’s the visual idea that occurs at the very beginning, and then… my feelings
are then transmitted into the image, and all my experience as a person, as a human being
– all the things I’ve read, seen, thought, felt, all these things – they come through in the making of the work and I would hope that the little images that
I make within that – they’ll allude to these things, and people will connect with
them. Paint is a very, really very interesting substance. Also requires an ability to deal with frequent failures, as well – You’re trying to make this amorphous substance congeal into something meaningful [laughs]!
You know, you thing you’ve tamed it but you’ve never tamed it – you know, it’s
still got its own ideas about what it wants to do. Before I’d went to art school I’d gone
to Paisley College of Technology, and the environment there was intensely politicised.
I mean, most of the professors there were all Marxists and, you know, I got sucked into
that and became very, very politically aware. It was the first years of Margaret Thatcher’s
government, which, as we all know, had a particular impact on Scotland. Many of the industries that had
defined Scotland, that were central, in a way, to its identity – particularly Glasgow
– like shipbuilding and steel, these were being slowly dismantled. A lot of people lost their
jobs and so on, so we felt very – this was something that had to be militantly fought. And so I found myself involved in artists who felt
like they could use their work as a way of of trying to communicate that change and offer possibilities for the future. To come from a small town just on the outskirts of of Glasgow, where, with no artistic background
whatsoever, into Glasgow School of Art, this sort of world opened up, it was quite a – it
was fantastic actually. The People’s Palace painting came about because I’d had a relationship with the curators of the People’s Palace, they were kind of interested in my work particularly the fact that I had been connecting with what was going on in Glasgow. [Voice of Harry McShane] We are gathered at the People’s Palace, Glasgow, to inaugurate Ken Currie’s magnificent pictorial ode to all rebels, martyrs, fugitives, and to Capitalist sinners, and saints in Glasgow between 1778 and 1978. The inauguration of this mural history of Glasgow ranging over a period of 200 years, is a unique occasion for creative, artistic, and radical Scotland. [Ken Currie] The struggle that they had been involved in
themselves was actually up on the wall for people to see, I think that was a really important
experience for them, but the interesting thing about that commission was that the – most
of the criticism I got from it came from the left itself. That was a deeply disillusioning
experience for me – to have people that I thought were on my side attacking the work.
A lot of people on the left thought artists should be facilitators – that they should be working with the public to help them realise their ideas rather than them presenting their ideas to the public. You know, I’m not preaching to people, it’s
not a classroom they’re in, you know. I want them to have a visual experience, so it’s
about the composition, it’s about the colour; it’s about the energy of the thing. You know, that’s the way paintings should work- they should kind of haunt you I mean, because I’ve spent my entire life being haunted by paintings that have been made by other
artists, you know, by great artists, and I’ve had to go back and look at them and every
time I go back the mystery deepens rather than is solved, and I think that’s the mark
of a really great work of art. You know, my work has always had that theatrical look about it I have this great passion for film and for cinema, and I quite often work in sequences or I make triptychs which are one scene, one scene, and another scene. I’d been reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis – you know the idea of people – something changing from one thing recognisable into something which is unrecognisable. Morphing – the idea of morphing into something which is slightly nightmarish. These are the stuff of horror, and we’ve seen the horror
genre, for example in cinema, uses that kind of change thing all the time. And I’m fascinated
by that. One of the things that astonishes me about
the response to my work is that I can make this imagery which is quite difficult to look
at, it’s quite bloody sometimes, it’s quite gory, quite horrific, and people come in and
they’ll look at the work and they say, ‘oh I can’t look at that – that’s horrifying, that’s
horrendous. It’s just too much’. And then they’ll go and watch a crime drama that night, and there’s people having their heads chopped off and strangled, and they’ll sit and watch that
with a cup of tea. It never ceases to amaze me! What is it about seeing blood on a static image, like a painting, that is so difficult – that they – why is that unacceptable, whereas blood is acceptable in other forms? I’ve never really been able to answer that myself, I really don’t know. So when you are direct in that way, you make your direct image which directly assaults the senses in every way, with imagery which is difficult – it just seems to have a huge impact compared to other mediums. I don’t know why. Painting – this old-fashioned medium still seems to have
an ability to shock. When I made the oncologists – the Three Oncologists painting a lot of people saw them as spectral images, and ghostly images and of course that immediately had
some sort of supernatural associations with it. But for me, it was actually – what I was trying to aim for
was just a technical thing – I was trying to paint these single figures, or forms, against
a really black background, and I wanted them to shimmer within that – to have some sort
of movement within that, so it meant I had to really soften the edges down. Because people will bring their baggage with
them to an image of three cancer specialists, all you have to do is have a cancer specialist
standing, looking at you, to make you quake in your boots, and I suppose that’s all that
needed to happen in that painting. It’s interesting that people will bring to
it all these different other feelings that they have about it, and in a way that’s their business
you know? Marcel Duchamp used to say that the artist does 50% of the work and the viewer
does the remaining 50% and I totally agree with that. Once the painting’s completed my job is done,
and then the rest of it is up to the viewer

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