John Kiki exhibition at Norwich Castle

Keiron Pim His work is vibrant, colourful and conveys the energy that he puts into it. Yarmouth-based artist John Kiki spoke to KEIRON PIM ahead of his new exhibition in Norwich.

Keiron Pim

John Kiki set himself a challenge when he was offered a show at Norwich Castle.

The Yarmouth-based artist was offered a retrospective in the Norfolk painters 2008 series, along the lines of the castle's month-long Bruer Tidman exhibition that has just closed - but Kiki had other ideas.

“When I was offered the show it was about 14 months ago. I said: 'We have got ages so do you mind if I do new things?'

“I wanted to show what I can do in a year, and also to do it as an exercise for myself.”

So the exhibition comprises a set of new works, which demonstrate Kiki's characteristic flair and colour. Whereas some artists will labour for weeks on a single painting, for Kiki the emphasis is on immediacy and instinct.

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“I tried to use colour as I had never done before. I also tried to finish every painting in one go. I knew I wouldn't be able to do that with all of them but I managed with a few.

“I decided to work from titles. For instance I was looking through a friend's thesis on Jack Butler Yeats and I was struck by the drama and sense of mystery that the title of one of the images, 'The Man from Aranmore', suggested. Who was this man from Aranmore?

“I almost immediately recreated a charcoal version of the Yeats work on a large canvas with the aim to make the image my own. It took another two weeks with the work never from my mind when I was finally able to attempt the painting which I finished in one sitting.

“Those were my goals. I was inspired by the thought of showing in those two rooms.”

With the exhibition space in mind he created a series of large acrylic paintings that are bright and bold and capture the viewer's attention. The impressive setting of the Castle's art gallery is one of the biggest exhibitions yet for the Cypriot-born artist. He lived in London for many years, trained at Camberwell art school and the Royal Academy, had a spell in New York and is now settled in Yarmouth, where his family are in the restaurant business.

Yarmouth is home to a growing community of artists - Kiki cites Tidman, Emrys Parry, Bridget Heriz and Katarzyna Coleman to name a few - and he says that the town has plenty going for it, adding that: “I have an amazing studio here - if it was in London I wouldn't be able to afford it.”

In it he creates vibrant paintings that have a worldwide following. According to Andrew Moore, keeper of art at Norwich Castle, “Kiki's long-held interest in sources as diverse as classical myth and magazine photographs is here developed on a series of large-scale canvasses that display a new sense of colour through the use of pastel shades, as well as his trademark streaks and splashes of paint.

“Kiki attacks life and his art with a passion that conveys absolute immediacy - both in the application of paint and his reinvention of classical themes and subjects drawn from contemporary life.

“The artist's eye is captured by compelling photographs or images in magazines and newsprint, which he translates with transcendent colour and dash. Influences such as Velasquez, Jack Yeats or Alfred Munnings relate to single images which command his imagination, the results burning into our own retina.”

John Kiki's exhibition at Norwich Castle runs from Saturday, October 18, to Sunday November 16. Admission is £3 for a special exhibitions ticket, with concessions £2.60 and children £2.20. Alternatively a full Castle ticket, which includes exhibition entry, costs £5.80, or £4.95 concessions, or £4.25 for children. Call 01603 495897 to book.

The exhibition has been made possible by the East Anglia Art Fund. Visitors wishing to purchase works should call the fund on 01603 493668 or email