Keith Frake talks about the ideas, images, influences in his exhibition Between Heaven and Hell, at the Artizan Gallery, Torquay.
ArtsCulture: What’s the role of the artist in society?
Keith Frake: The role of the artist in society has transformed itself through periods of history and will continue to do so as the needs of society changes in the future. The artist’s role should not be at the mercy of society because the artist is not outside of society they are part of it. It is important that the artist defines there own roll whether it is political activist, social commentator, prophet or poet.
The more important question is not what is the role of the artist in society but what would society be without the artist.
If Covid 19 has taught us anything, it is that the people who do the seemingly unimportant, almost invisible jobs make a profound contribution to society. Imagine a world without pictures, without sculpture, great architecture, music, poetry and literature etc. Effectively there would be no culture – a dead civilisation.
You only need to go back to Germany during the 1930s, to the book-burning bonfires of incredible literature, the ransacking of art galleries, the exhibition of Degenerate Art. Basically the extermination of a culture.
With the emergence of the internet, the proliferation of technologies and the media the Arts have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. Many artists who have enjoyed success are very much part of a well-integrated economic system and good luck to them. The vast majority, however, are not, perhaps subsidising their work through grants, teaching or through juggling several jobs.
Politically, socially and environmentally the world is in a very fragile place – we have the increase in populist politics, the rise of totalitarianism all over the world, and the voting in of incompetent leaders. Artists will have to continue to fight their corner.
Having been a teacher I know the importance of education not just for children, but for all – and by that I don’t mean facts and information. In fact, what we need to learn is that, we don’t know very much at all.
I am no political activist. In fact, for me, art is quite a selfish activity. I can’t see anything wrong with that. I’m just a retired teacher. Tootling along, minding my own business, painting, drawing, making things. I want to engage in dialogue, discuss ideas, provoke, listen and continue on my journey of self-discovery. I just want to improve myself and be a better person. This is one part of my role as an artist in society. This is not a naive sentiment this is a credible ambition. This is one way that the artist effect change. How society sees it is another matter.
ArtsCulture: In your statement on the Devon Artist Network you say you were working on a ‘series of paintings/drawings that incorporate ash from the burnt remains of previous or discarded work and also a sculpture/installation piece using lead and other found materials’, both of which suggest a certain type of renewal. Will you be pursuing the themes in Between Heaven and Hell for your future work, or will you be embarking on a new journey?
Keith Frake: Renewal and transformation have been significant factors in my life over the last few years. I left the RCA in the early 1980s and was swept along by the euphoria of the times. Installation work, Video, Performance were still relatively new, only a few fine art colleges had departments that were not purely painting and sculpture. I was young and very influence by new ideas and technology.
I then trained as a teacher whilst still keeping an eye on what was going on in the art world.
I was a teacher for over 20 years and enjoyed the work very much, but the way art and other creative subjects were taught was depressingly restrictive and shallow. I introduced new ideas to widen the scope of dialogue. This kept my interest in art, literature and cultural ideas alive.
Having left teaching I straight away wanted to restart some kind of art practice and involve myself in related dialogue and debate. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and more importantly, I had the self-determination and integrity that was missing when I was younger. Then I became ill. Then I had to pick myself up and restart all over again. This period supplied another repertoire of ideas, images and experiences to work with ( every cloud has a silver lining so they say).
All these events have finally culminated in the exhibition. All the ideas, images, influences, anxieties and hopes are somewhere hidden in this work.
This has been a journey of revivals, renewals, transformations, but rather than a nice linear journey of discovery it’s been a journey of stumbling blocks, one after another each presenting its own unique set of possibilities.
May the journey continue.
See Between Heaven and Hell, at the Artizan Gallery, Torquay.
top miage: Hommage to Georg Trakl
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