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Jeff Keen (1923-2012)

June 22, 2012

Jeff Keen (1923 – 2012)

Jeff Keen was primarily known as a legendary underground filmmaker whose work and activities coincided with the emergence of expanded cinema. He was one of the original participants in the 1960s at the London Filmmakers Co‐op. The BFI and later the British Arts Council supported and enabled Keen to make films and to devise a multitude of drawings and paintings. During this period, Keen maintained jobs as a landscaper in the Parks and Recreation department of his hometown, Brighton, and sometimes as a postal worker delivering mail. The artist made movies primarily on weekends with his family and friends in an ensemble cast and his painting and drawing studio was for 40 years a repository of props and art that accumulated to extraordinary effect.

Keen was able to merge Surrealist and Dadaist ideology with a social‐political critique of American consumerism with the spontaneity of the Beat and 60s era. These works are dynamic responses to an overwhelming sense of increasingly proliferating media and commodification during the decade. He often explored his experiences surviving World War II in this material, focusing on monuments of power and the ever‐present war within the artist as individual. Keen made use of invented characters or corporations (ie. RaydayFilms) with brands, personas or protagonists in a fractured, narrative style. Performative and reminiscent of Surrealism’s influence on his seminal period in the 1950s, Keen additionally drew from English Romanticism and his love of language to devise a novel method of working in a newly evolving medium.

Keen’s work can be viewed today as prescient to modes of film and video that began to take cultural references into an exploration of our own larger social portraiture. His enthusiastic embrace of alternative modes of discourse in a pre‐Internet age is astoundingly fresh today, and the diversity of his practice calls to mind both painters, film and video artists who succeeded him, from such figures as Derek Jarman, Richard Hamilton and Linder, to American artists such as Jack Smith, Ryan Trecartin and Peter Saul.

Jeff Keen very rarely exhibited his drawings and paintings. His first United States solo exhibition, Jeff Keen:Works from the 1960s + 1970s was held January 18 – February 18 this year at Elizabeth Dee, New York and included drawings, paintings and films. In tandem, the gallery initiated an offsite collaboration with Broadway 1602, New York. Upcoming 2012 exhibitions and screenings include: Brighton and Hove Museum (retrospective), the National Portrait Gallery, London (solo) and Tate Modern, London (group).

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