Norwich exhibition celebrates artist John Kiki's 50 years of painting
PUBLISHED: 13:47 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 14:01 11 April 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
Norwich's Mandell's Gallery is currently packed full of a colourful array of intriguing characters, a striking mix of figures all captured on canvas by Great Yarmouth-based artist John Kiki.
They are among the countless works he has created in his 50 years as a painter, and this latest exhibition also coincides with a new book – JOHN KIKI: Fifty Years In The Figurative Fold by Keith Roberts – that looks back at his half a century with paint.
From his art student days in the 1960s at Camberwell and the Royal Academy Schools under the mentorship of Frank Auerbach, right through until now, figurative painting has always been John’s passion.
Sitting among his work in the gallery, 74-year-old John reflects on how his portraits are often a mix of imagination, inspiration and chance.
“Whenever I start a painting I like to have an absolutely clear mind and no idea of what I am going to do, I prefer that, and then I start looking for a subject,” he said.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to do so I just put an oval which represents the head, add the neck, and carry on until I get an idea - the idea develops from the work.”
His works are created in his South Denes studio, an Aladdin’s cave full of paintings past and and present where he often uses the floor as his easel for his huge canvases to make sure the acrylic paint does not drip.
And does Great Yarmouth - the town the Cyprus-born artist chose to make his home after growing up and studying in London - have any influence on his work?
“It would be subsconcious,” John said, adding that some have suggested his paintings’ bright colours could reflect the seaside town’s fairground.
When asked further about some of the inspirations behind the characters in his paintings, he said: “I do sometimes paint from photographs - so I take photos of my wife Mary or of friends - or anything I see in a magazine or even comics and I just let my mind go wherever it takes me.”
Classical paintings and master artists of the past also play a part. He cites Rembrandt as an influence, before adding that the Dutch painter’s work is “just too wonderful,” and he is fascinated by recreating the Infanta figure in Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas just as Picasso was too.
He also appears to takes Picasso’s lead when it comes to the naming - or not - of his work.
When asked what he called a particular painting, The Connoisseur, John replied: “I don’t know, I can’t remember what they put, they aren’t always my titles, they are hardly ever my titles.
“Did you know Picasso apparently never ever named a picture, so if he can’t bother I can’t bother either.”
Maybe one of the reasons he is reluctant to define his works with names is because in his eyes they are often never quite finished - even when they are hanging on a gallery wall in an art show.
“That I first showed in the 1970s,” he said pointing to a painting called The Parade (After Bosch) which references part of a Bosch painting depicting Heaven and Hell.
“It was shown at Art Space Gallery in London years ago. Since then I’ve changed it five times, completely different, and I think it is at the best stage now...The figure in the middle, that’s the third version, the other two versions, I cut the figure out and made a single painting and sold those and then I carried on.”
He added: “When I finish a painting it may have 10 stages where I thought it was finished...they finish by accident and start by accident...I never know when it’s finished. I might change my style and think I could add to that earlier painting, but there are some I wouldn’t touch because I am so satisfied with them.”
John, who actually at one point followed in his father’s footsteps in the restaurant trade, running restaurants including the Dolphin and the Seafood Restaurant in Great Yarmouth, said he never stops being excited about painting.
“Scientists, when they invent something they get a thrill out of it, when I do a painting and I think it’s good I get a get a big thrill out of that, that is what I want most in my life, I don’t care about money or anything else but I have to earn money to carry on painting. It costs me a fortune in paints!”
• John Kiki, an exhibition of recent paintings, is at Mandell’s Gallery, in Elm Hill, Norwich until April 28. Opening times are Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.
• The book JOHN KIKI: Fifty Years in the Figurative Fold by Keith Roberts is being launched at Mandells Gallery on Saturday, April 14 from 12pm to 4pm. The book, published by Selwyn Taylor Publishing, is priced at £22.
• For more information, visit www.mandellsgallery.co.uk