Portrait of the artist: Ken Spooner

22nd September 2021 by Octi in Blog

We are so thrilled that gallery artist Ken Spooner is featured and celebrated in the House of Hackney’s Autumn 2021 collection ‘Super Nature’.

Growing up as an evacuee, Ken Spooner spent his days crafting art out of reclamation finds – then, as a teenage rebel in the 1950s, he bought an ex-military motorbike and drove down to St Ives, where he quickly became a part of the vibrant local creative scene. 

All these years later, Ken shows no signs of slowing down – his prolific output of paintings, sculptures and ceramics still as brilliant and bold as it ever was. We spoke to Ken about his extraordinary journey from the make-do-and-mend of post-war Britain to making friends with some of the most legendary artists of the 20th century…

Tell us about how you came to be an artist…

I don’t think you can ever “become” an artist, you’re always trying to be one but a lot of art is out of your grasp: you think you know what you’re doing and then with the next brushstroke, you’ve discovered something else. I’m always learning, hopefully I learn something every day that can be added to what I already know.

I grew up scribbling: there was no TV, no wireless, just bits of paper, crayons, dad’s toolbox… so if I am an artist, that’s how I became one. In those days it was make do and mend, you didn’t have a choice. Even now, I see a piece of wood and think: what can I do with it? That’s what art is to me: an element of discovery by using what’s around you. And, it’s about the search for magic: looking out of the window and liking the shape of a tree, the colour of a flower, then adding that in to see if it works. If it doesn’t, you just scrape it off and move on to something else. 

Your work harks back to indigenous, early art while still feeling very punk in spirit and relevant to today. What inspires you?

Everything inspires me. I don’t dismiss anything; I learnt a long time ago that you have to leave every door open. It’s that simple.

Once, after a show of mine in Switzerland, I was invited to a reception at a collector’s home up in the mountains – I got looking at these paintings in the kitchen when a chap asked me what I thought of them. I said they were amazing, and he said, “they’re mine, but I prefer your work”. He told me that all he could do was paint the same picture – in yellow, in blue, in red. His work was worth a lot of money and yet he said to me, “whatever you do, don’t get in a trap like I am”. That was one hell of a lesson to learn, and I’ve always remembered what he said to me. Painting the same skyline every day doesn’t make art – so keep the doors open.  

You have led such a rich life – can you tell us a bit more about your story and ethos?

In one of my past lives, I was an antiques dealer and handled some truly amazing objects – ancient carvings that were hundreds or even thousands of years old, like a stone from Egypt with the cartouches on. That’s real art, when it makes you tingle! 

I travelled the world and met Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York, Keith Haring in San Francisco… It was good business and good fun – and I use a lot of those memories in my work without realising it. I’ll stand back from my work, think of certain artists and have a conversation with them. I’ll ask, “What silly thing can I do now to give this piece something? What would you do, Picasso? What would you do, Basquiat?” I’ll then see the idea forming on the canvas. 

I don’t draw the painting then fill it in, like painting by numbers – I go straight onto a white canvas, make a few marks, and then take a really good look at it. Each mark suggests the next, it’s a progression but none of it is preconceived. That’s what makes me do it every day, because I never know what it’s going to be. 

Click here to see Ken’s available work on our website.

To read the full story on the House of Hackney website, please click here.

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