THE MANY FACETS OF RICHARD KETLEY’S ART
Born in 1964, Richard Ketley started painting and exhibiting while still a student at Hyde Park High School. During his early career, he exhibited at Artists in the Sun and at the Sandton Gallery, Johannesburg, as well as participated in a joint exhibition at the National Galley in Kampala, Uganda. Some of his most recent work have been shortlisted for the SA Taxi Art Award (2015 and 2016). Today, Ketley works principally in charcoal, acrylic and oil, and seeks to develop images that are drawn from life but at the same time extend the viewer’s imagination. When he is not painting, he runs a consulting business commuting between Johannesburg and Dubai, as well as travelling widely in both Africa and the Middle East.
You are on a constant search for perfection you say, do you have an artist’s vision of what that might look like and have you ever come close?
My search for perfection is a visual journey. Since its start, abstract art has always had a spiritual or transcendental purpose, to lift the viewer from an exploration of content to an experience of balance and harmony. Such an objective, almost by definition, cannot be achieved, but it can be strived for. Every new and successful work is a step along this journey. So the day after I have completed a piece, I probably feel I am getting there, but by the end of the week, realize I have a long way to go.
You are primarily an abstract painter, has your work at any point before Call/Response been influenced by photography?
Almost all artists use photography as source material in some way. Be it only the smudgy black-and-white newspaper clippings that are the source of Marlene Dumas’ large paintings. In my case the uniqueness of Call/Response comes from three things – firstly, that Oluwamuyiwa’s Logo’s street photography, which at first glance is about context is as much about form and structure as my abstract paintings. Secondly, these photographs are responses to the same places and contexts that excite me in Lagos. Finally there is the commitment to working with an actual photographer (and friend) and the process/dialogue that we have created between the works. Thus the paintings are a response to a very specific call that we both can hear.
Can you share some of the most memorable landscapes you have witnessed as a painter in Lagos?
As somebody of English heritage, I guess I am meant to be drawn to green and rolling landscapes. But for some reason I cannot fully explain, I am more drawn to the texture and contrast that form when things are not quite built or damaged, and accidental textures pile up on each other; somewhere in the dark recesses formed by incomplete buildings, the silhouette of a dark figure can be discerned. So for me Lagos is a thousand favourite landscapes that unfold in vignettes everywhere I look. If I have to choose a place it would be Lagos Island due to the range of architectural histories and the faded hopes they represent.
What is the most striking metaphor for Lagos you have both encountered?
It is dangerous to ascribe a single metaphor to the city, especially as an outsider. People so often talk of energy and vitality when they describe Lagos, but who are we to know whether such energy is actually desperation and suffering? Perhaps my metaphor would actually be the scenes I witness when I lunch at a very modest café called Iya-Eba Restaurant /Bar on Lagos Island. The scene is like thousands across Nigeria – rough plastic tables, the ladies cooking outside witnessed through the open door, sweating over steaming pots. But the customers are in suits, discussing global business opportunities, and the shadows are formed by the tall buildings of Africa’s greatest city.
Photography is often more accessible than painting, when applying context. With this project how are you able to translate context across the images?
The most interesting aspect of the Call/Response exhibition has been watching the dialogue that is created by juxtapositioning the paintings with the photographs. One of my favourite moments during the show was watching and listening to the security officers from the gallery standing in front of a pair of a painting next to the photograph that inspired it. Their initial dialogue concerned trying to draw the linkages between the two images but then became a conversation on the nature of art. The one was firmly of the view that he liked photography because he could understand, recognise and relate to what he was looking at – and how an everyday scene could be transformed through the photographer’s eye into a moment of beauty. The other was resolutely of the view that he wanted to look at something different to daily life and responded at an emotional level to the colours and forms in the abstract paintings. Achieving this level of engagement across a range of audiences was perhaps the most important outcome for me from the exhibition.
In your collaboration, what elements did each borrow from the other?
As all the painting are a response to the photographs, every painting borrows a moment or snippet from the photograph – however, through the transformation of that snippet into a painting, I hope that gift is returned.
April 08, 2021