Ian Mckeever is a contemporary British artist who specialises in abstract landscapes, human form and additions of the photographic element. He began working as an artist in 1968 and had his first solo exhibition in 1970, followed by his first group exhibition in the following year. Compared to his early works, his more recent ones delved more into painting side of art and increasingly focused on the importance of the quality of light (as well as architectural structures) –
“Light in a painting intrigues me enormously: how to imbue a painting with light so that one is not actually depicting it, but somehow its quality is implicitly within the painting— […] emanating from it.” Ian Mckeever (1)
The set of Mckeever’s work I am particularly interested in are his 1985-1986 collection ‘Lapland Paintings’. They are both Oil and Photograph on canvas and were first exhibited in ‘Ian McKeever, Echo and Reflection, Arbeiten, 1983-1987’ Kunstverein, Braunschweig, Germany. Mckeever combines the aggressive weather with the serene landscape, balancing one another in harmony. These pieces also border the abstract and a sense of figuration with works such as ‘Crossing’ (2) , ‘Hearing you Breathe I’ (3) and ‘Glacier III’ (4) which all explode onto the canvas with such a force that you feel you are exposed in the wilderness with Mckeever.
Especially in ‘Crossing’ there is a fine line between painting and photograph, confusing the viewer but intriguing them at the same time.
I want to use the weather to physically scratch into the surface of my work (whether that be photographs or paintings) as so that Mckeever suggests in the piece ‘Hearing you Breathe I’. Although this is not the method that he uses to achieve this look, I feel by combining the winds strength, which creates these mesmerising patterns, could produce a similar feeling that Mckeever achieves in each and every one of his works. There is a real focus on the texture and nature of what he is depicting, it has a fluid yet controlled guidance that allows you to explore and ‘step into’ the paintings. In addition, his use of muted colours (browns, greys, blacks and blues) are key to achieving the atmosphere of the terrain he was shooting in. In Lapland, the desolate landscape filled with rocks and glaciers must have felt cold and sometimes lonely, but he has used these lonely colours and transformed them to express an energy unmatched. Shown in both his German and London exhibitions:
Some of his more recent exhibitions include:
- Ian McKeever/Tony Cragg, Paintings and Sculptures, Skulpturenpark Waldfrieden, Wuppertal (2020)
- Ian McKeever: The Nature of Painting, Heather Gaudio Fine Art, New Canaan, CT (2019)
- Ian McKeever & Richard Deacon, Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen (2018)
- Weight and Measure, Prints 1993-2018, Young Gallery, Salisbury (2018)
- Paintings 1992-2018, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull (2018)
The inspiration behind many of Mckeever’s early works focused on by the writings of the land artist LINK Robert Smithson LINK, followed by the over-painted landscape photographs. Smithson created immense artworks over the course of his unfortunately short life including ‘Spiral Jetty’ 1970 (6) and Broken Circle/Spiral Hill 1971 (7). Smithson’s use of rock can be linked to Mckeever’s attraction in his ‘Lapland’ Pieces and bears similar ties so some of his writings such as ‘A Heap of Language’. This ‘sought to show how writing might become an artwork and how theoretical writings explore the relationship of a piece of art to its environment’. (8)
In terms of criticism, there is little to none around Mckeever’s work which I think proves its universal appeal whilst still having that confusion and interest that splits viewers opinion. In Art News, Mark Prince writes about Mckeever’s work ‘Lapland’ – ‘‘But in only one sense – that of the fundamental descriptiveness of their medium – are the photographs more concrete than the paintings.’’. (9) In this quote from the article, Prince states how the photographs may appear more concrete than the paintings whereas I disagree. I feel the painting and the photograph work as one and, before reading the description, I assumed it was a whole painting. Although the photograph is ‘heavy’ within Mckeever’s work is nowhere more important or ‘concrete’ than his abstract marks over the surface.
Within my work, I am going to try myself to find that balance between the abstract and the figurative whilst using textural mark making that still links back to my chance weather experiments. Mckeever’s philosophy around not having to depict artwork that everyone will understand will stick with me throughout my project, allowing me to focus more around my own philosophy. From this I am going to take photographs, as Mckeever did, and work on them, experimenting how I can possibly combine or take inspiration from them. Overall, Ian Mckeever is such an inspiration for me so listening to his interview linked below was incredibly interesting and educational in terms of how I think and respond to my own art.
(1) Inner Vision, Ian McKeever in conversation with Eleanor Mills’, RA Magazine, Autumn 2009, p.83