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In the Studio with Ewan Keenan

Vibrant figurative artist, Ewan Keenan, breaths life and colour into mundane scenes of the everyday, commenting on social and political issues, which he captures through dark humour and satire. We met with Ewan to discuss his upbringing, education and find out how he's coped in lockdown.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
 
I was always creative as a child. Ever since having basic knowledge of the world, social and political issues, I decided I wanted to put into practice what I see.
 
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
 

I am from Grantham, a small town in the East Midlands near Nottingham. It’s a strange place, the Midlands; very rural, neglected and in need of investment. You notice it in Grantham. It seems to be the case with most towns in the Midlands. An area with little to do when you’re growing up. It certainly inspired my work. I couldn’t wait to get out and move to London! Seriously though, it inspired my work enormously and still does. For instance, one of my more admired paintings ‘Pub Brawl’ is a scene from outside the Blue Pig, a pub we all used to go in as teenagers.

Growing up, my parents were always very supportive in letting me be creative and do what I was most passionate about. I am incredibly thankful to them for allowing me to go down a creative path rather than the traditional academic route.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?

Once I had finished school at 16, I went to college to study Art and Design for 2 years. My tutor at the time, Alison, was incredibly supportive, letting me grow as an artist. She is responsible for my interest in painting, so I am really thankful for that. I was then advised to do a Foundation course afterwards, but I felt I was ready to get straight into a painting degree at University and miss out the Foundation. I got into Camberwell, University Arts London to study Painting. It is quite unusual to get accepted on the course without a Foundation, so, being younger than most, I was pretty proud of myself.

In terms of my experience at Camberwell, I was disappointed with the teaching and the little help on the business/career aspect of being an artist once graduated. I actually recently wrote an article on this which you can find on my website. Nonetheless, the experience of being at one of the best art schools in the best city with incredible artists around me, was an incredibly good experience and shaped my work immensely.

What’s the message of your work?
 

People!!! I am fascinated by people. Even in my interior pieces where there are no figures, for me it is still about trying to understand the type of person who may be living in that space that has been painted. I am also absorbed with the challenge of painting mundane scenes and bringing them to life through the painting.

 With my figurative works, I aim to capture the emotions of the figure involved in the work. I purposely incorporate dark humour and cultural satire throughout all my works. I am massively interested in the politics and social issues of our country, so these are seen through my works. I love this country and the people that make this country.

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Everyday people, everyday situations. People from all social and class backgrounds.

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

In terms of artists, David Hockney and Matisse will be two that will continue to influence my work throughout my lifetime. Although, most recently I have been reading about the lives of some very important Renaissance figures. One I am most interested in currently is early Renaissance artist Paolo Uccello, I am learning so much from his works. Someone that influences my thought and in turn influences my work is Jordan Peterson. I’d advise anyone to read his book ’12 rules for life’ to better understand the man.

l 'Atelier Rouge, 1911, by Henri Matisse

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I wouldn’t call it a plan, but before I start I always have a slight idea of what I am going to do. Once complete, the work comes out completely different to how I originally imagined. I think that’s the excitement of the whole process.

The audience is a huge part of my work. I try as much as possible to appeal to the masses and not just a select few. There’s a sense of exclusivity within the art world with a narrow view point of keeping the work within the intellectual art bubble. I believe arts’ purpose is to be a mass communication device. I feel there is an intellectual snobbery with many conceptual artworks to only appeal to this art bubble and not the masses, it’s pretentious nonsense in my opinion. The current period of art is an academic, repetitive and dull period of art. Take the Turner prize for instance, it’s just academic repetitiveness. It really couldn’t be any more mind-numbing. Nonetheless, there is a vast amount of great art being produced currently that doesn’t come across as pretentious and repetitive. That is the work that appeals to those outside of the art bubble as well as within. That is what I hope my work aims to do.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise? How has your art evolved?

There has been no specific event in my life that has changed my arts’ aesthetic but I certainly see it has developed and progressed over the years. The change happens naturally for me, maybe there has been an event that has changed my work, but not intentionally or that I know of.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

Space – the bigger the space means the bigger the work and I always feel that I work better on large scale works. I also prefer to work alone and not with others round me. I am more focused.

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

Just keep creating art! No specific goal. I have started to take up writing as well recently and all my informal articles are available to view via my website. It’s good to write, it keeps my mind working even when I am not painting and ultimately it improves my art practice too.

How have you been keeping creative during isolation?

Artists tend to be quite isolated when they paint anyway, so in terms of my actual practice, it isn’t too different. I think the hardest part of it is not being able to go out. Nevertheless, I always remind myself how fortunate I am to have the luxury to ‘self isolate’ when many countries live in such bad conditions and don’t share the privilege.

 Staying creative is very easy during a pandemic for me. I stick to a routine so mentally I maintain a healthy mind-set. I paint as I did before but now finding more time to do so due to fewer commitments. Thank god for postal workers though, the amount of art supplies I have had delivered recently has meant I can keep going.

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