Internationally renowned figurative artist Ken Kiff was born in Dagenham, London in 1935. He initially studied pottery, then stained glass, before eventually turning to painting while attending the Hornsey School of Art, 1955-61. He Later taught at various art colleges himself, including Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Kiff came to prominence in the 1980s in due to both the championship of leading British art critic Norbert Lynton, as well as a cultural climate intent on re-assessing figurative art following the Royal Academy’s ‘New Spirit in Painting’ exhibition in 1981.
From the start his heightened colors and vibrant, dream-like scenes might resemble those of a children’s fairytale or a child’s nightmare. Color and color relationships interacted in his paintings and prints with a range of images evoking the blissfully radiant and lyrical to the comic and disturbingly grotesque. Humans or animals took centre-stage in barely outlined landscapes, with violations of scale and perspective which had echoes of the work of Modernist painters he deeply respected and admired, Klee, Miro and Chagall, and paid homage to the style and concision of Chinese landscape painting which he so admired. Despite employing figurative forms in his work, Kiff had an intimate relationship with a technique; he was primarily concerned in pictorial form as opposed to representational meaning, yet he combined both aspects in order to get at something beneath their apparent differences. His deep personal knowledge of poetry and music further informed his sense of a painting’s structure. Kiff stayed true to his particular vision throughout his life.
Throughout his career he was fascinated by the printmaking process, producing editions of etchings, woodcuts and lithographs, as well as monotypes. He enjoyed how new ways of working with materials, the grain of the wood, for example, or the way in which the wax in the encaustics, could extend his visual thinking and force him to make decisions more quickly. He took great pleasure in collaborating with master printmaking technicians such as Dorothea Wight and Mark Balakjian in Britain, Erik Hollgersson in Sweden, and Garner Tullis in the US with whom he first worked in 1988.
In 1991 he was elected a Royal Academician, and the work from his residency at the National Gallery was exhibited there in 1993, and his drawings and prints at the Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield in the following year. Further major exhibitions were held at the Mead Gallery, University of Warwick (1997), Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery (1999), and the White Gallery, Brighton (2002).Kiff’s work has been exhibited widely in the UK and features in prominent collections including the Arts Council, Tate and British Museum.