Ian McKeever

Project 2: gaps and spaces.

I knew I had seen this because I had opened up some YouTube tabs and some static pages of images, but then forgot by somehow mentally integrating it with the research point and only when I’d finished that, wondering what these tabs were about.

This may have been fortuitous as I think the preceding work will make this task easier.

This, I think, is the video; the links in the course materials aren’t active but there is a searchable title.

There is also this video which is a longer version of the one above. McKeever says many of the same things but with more expansion.

The viewing task is this:

  • Find out about McKeever, his methods and ideas
  • Select at least one painting and make a close analysis of it.
  • Consider how far this work resonates with my own aspirations.

These are my sources. McKeever’s own site is peculiarly resistant to listing without a dead image.




“There are enough tables and chairs and people in the world”

McKeever seems to me to be a very insular man. He talks of being pushed away by a painting after first being seduced in; and of the era of figurative work being over due to the advent of photography, video and film. For him, abstraction is a way of slowing things down and has a purity unique to painting. He seems to find technological changes alienating, and in talking about himself, often says ‘you*’, as though he is not the person under discussion. He also uses ‘you’ in a way that seems to include us, to generalise his own experience and views to a wider audience, which resonates somewhat with his seduction/rejection theme.

But while he steers away from the figurative, he simultaneously imbues his paintings with a kind of agency, ‘they finish themselves’, and talks about personification in his work, of there being people in them, particularly referring to the Twelve Standing series. Is he populating his world with metaphorical people who have a kind of conceptual agency which moves at the glacial pace he needs for thinking about it?

McKeefer pours paint which makes me wonder at what point he sees them face to face, as it were. Are they on the floor until they have ‘finished’ themselves, or does he place them upright at which point he’s able to see them as a viewer will? Does that lead to more pouring or is this the point where he hands over agency to them?

Looking at McKeever’s body of work over the years, there seems to be a slow and gradual refining of his approach to the sets, as he calls them, of pieces. The theme is recognisable from its simplicity and muted colours over some forty years although the early work often incorporated photography which he keeps separate now. Those beginning years seem more busy than they later became.

Screen clip taken from McKeever’s website and reproduced here in the spirit of fair, academic, non-commercial use.

Analysis of one painting alone, or more than one from different series’, would seem to rub against the grain of McKeever’s approach to his work. I looked at the 2003-2004 ‘Here’ series. In this set, there is a kind of morphology, shapes that remind me of micro-organisms under a microscope, or less evocatively, sets of X rays of teeth. This is my need to make abstracts mean something, doing what Rorschachs have been doing for years – allowing for projection onto an unstructured shape. But at a painterly level, I am seeing the kinds of layering and translucency I saw in Donachie’s cyanotypes. I think I’m right in saying McKeever doesn’t use primer because he wants the paint to stain the canvas, and this probably accounts for that lightness of touch, the bleeding of pools of paint into each other but with the retention of boundaries as each pool dries. Again, there’s the sense of glass layering between the elements, a very clever and painterly device for creating separation without weighing it down with emphasis. The misty parts retreat, the solids stand forward, although there is ambiguity in places as a translucent element seems to lie across one that has more substance.

I can take a lot from these ideas even though pouring is not likely to be possible in practice, at least I know now that this kind of visual experience exists and that it was made using paint. I probably don’t do simplicity enough, so this is an ambition of sorts; at least while I am discovering who I am as an artist.

McKeever’s need for abstraction at the expense of the figurative is not something I am likely to aspire to. Nor his view that paintings should push viewers away. Communication and accessibility are central to the way I want to work, and that includes digital enhancements or add-ons that might entice an audience for art that has not so far engaged.


*This is also a common form of speech in Yorkshire – ‘you’ meaning ‘I’ and also ‘us’ meaning me – where it has long felt to me to serve a distancing function, especially for emotional content.

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