Impermanence and the unpredictable are just two of the themes in Keith Frake’s Between Heaven and Hell at the Artizan Gallery, Torquay. Keith’s themes are played out not only in the imagery but how he creates the work. We chatted to him, to get underneath some of his method and meaning.
ArtsCulture: How much does the medium or studio space restrictions help define your work or force creativity?
Keith Frake: My last large scale piece was completed in 2017. Since then I have been working in a spare bedroom. Although I have managed to complete a few large scale drawings (6′ x 4′) on a wall I felt rather frustrated by the results because I couldn’t fully realise their potential.
That forced me to limit the size, A2 and A1. Instead, I started to work on different types of paper – watercolour, brown craft paper, the type of paper you find inside amazon parcels and cardboard boxes etc. This, in some respects, allowed for experimentation that compensated for the absence of a large scale. It made me focus very differently. All I had to work on was that small piece of paper. I was much more aware of how small changes in detail and form altered the overall atmosphere and possible meaning of the work. For example, the figure of the Angel has a very different meaning when it is positioned in the top part of the frame than standing at the side.
Believe it or not some of those pieces that look as they have been completed very quickly have gone through scores of transformations. There are at least 10 versions of some of the work.
I adapted quickly to a new way of working, but it did limit the spontaneity that occurs when you suddenly want to stop what you are doing and pursue another idea on a different work. The ability to work on several pieces at the same time, on different scales in various medium is ideally what I would like.
ArtsCulture: Where is Between Heaven and Hell?
The title of the exhibition is not meant as a statement, more a disguised semi rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer to ‘where is between Heaven and Hell’ but my work is exploring those issues through different types of imagery.
ArtsCulture: Looking at your work, it feels that it ‘moves’ but is also quite meditative – how did your experience in film and performance inform, if at all, Between Heaven and Hell?
Keith Frake: There is a strong temporal aspect to my work, but it is not easily perceptible over short durations. One of the determining themes of the work is the fragility of things, their lack of permanence, the transformation from one state.
I mentioned earlier that I like to use bitumen paint, not only because of its richness of colour but because it can create unpredictable changes in tone and texture. In 2017 I completed my largest painting using bitumen and many other substances that could be described as unstable with paint. I was pleased with the result. I knew, however, that over a long period of time the surface would transform itself. Discolouring and cracking etc. I then had to leave my studio and retire to my spare bedroom. The painting was wrapped up and kept in a garage. It’s now been nearly four years since the work was executed. I have not had the confidence to unveil the work. I’m either going to be highly elated or very disappointed.
That theme of fragility and transformation I have continued in the work for this exhibition. The impermanence and unpredictable theme is maintained by the combination of paints, oils and other unstable substances. Thus over time some reaction may occur within the very fabric of the work and on its surface. Secondly in the more recent work I spent a lot of time sanding down, reducing, weakening the surface of the paper making it tear and rip very easily. I would like to make some work that just hangs like gossamer on a wall.
Finally, I want to describe a schematic to you that your questions have helped me develop about my work.
Imagine an isosceles triangle. At the apex there are the themes Fragility, Transformation, Impermanence. Then on the left-hand corner you have the theme Anxiety and in the final corner you have Calm. If you travel either clockwise or anti-clockwise they all link together.
top image: Excavation of an Angel
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