Sunday, 18 March 2018

What Storage Staff Have For Lunch

Storage units. So interesting, no? So necessary, so expensive, so bloody cold. From the Goldsmiths student summer sofa storage in East London to the lunatic hugeness of Martinspeed, the creme de la creme of art world storage in North London. The latter situated just past the Old Vinyl Factory. The ceilings were as high as a London townhouse and then some. Just huge. Full of wooden boxes with all kinds of famous artists's names printed on the side in black. Jeez! I walked up and down the aisles quietly gasping. I tried to look cool for half a second but it didn't last. They were just boxes, but, you know, the art was seeping through. And what I couldn't see was obviously growing more amazing by the minute.

I then froze my socks off with my colleague Georgia as we photographed the works. On my phone, of course, very technical. I had called in advance so the handler could get everything ready for us. Our handler this day was great. It was so cold he took us to the staff room to warm up over lunch. The staff room was a huge office with 2 desks one end and a tennis court sized space with tiled grey carpet squares, and a table at the other end, full of burly guys having lunch. It all went a bit quiet as we sat down. I broke the sudden silence with 'Oh my god, look at your salad' followed by ' What are you eating...but you're a bloke'. I took the subtle approach. Two men had the most incredible salad, beetroot, chicken, peppers, loads of salad leaves, purple and all shades of green. Just gorgeous/beautiful. We got chatting. They gave us fresh Panettone. Everything was good. And delicious. And (very slightly) warmer.

We put each painting up against the grey felt low level stand and snapped away, crossing items off on our list at quite a speed. We didn't book the viewing room for cost reasons but actually, it worked really well. Georgia wore my wooly hat and jumped up and down to keep warm. I had multiple layers of thermals on which almost restricted my movement. But I did manage to lean a huge ladder up against some large containers on wheels (with the names of an elder male artist duo on, but empty I hasten to add) whilst I tried to get height to photograph some prints. Didn't work. Also not very Health and Safety. We'd do the prints properly on the next visit...

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Martha Kapos and a big beef sandwich

The Meeting
Oil on canvas

June 2017
Martha has been a huge help on many levels since dad died. She is a poet and writer and lectured at Chelsea School of Art where she met my dad. She wrote his obituary. We spent many happy summers picnicking up in Hampstead Heath with her family, mine and Chris Yetton's, also in the art history department at Chelsea. When asked if she wanted a car as her wedding present, she said no, she wanted a Ken Kiff painting. This piece (above) is on her wall, between a zillion books by the kitchen table, now in fashionable Dalston, alongside several other works by dad. It does feel mighty weird to be around so many of dad's works, I must say. 

As the show came to an end, we went to a little cafe round the corner from the Marlborough and celebrated with a glass of wine and the most enormous salt beef sandwich ever, even bigger than (and almost as good as) the ones at Gaby's. Dad and I would often go to Gaby's or to the Stockpot basement or share tables with strangers at Poons in Soho, 30 odd years ago when Soho was a little less sanitised. In hindsight, I think my life as a teenager was actually quite exciting though of course at the time it was the dullest ever!

Monday, 26 June 2017

Diaries, Etchings and a Mad Dash to Balham

Detail from a wood block,
coloured by the inks of the print.

When I cleared out all dad's stuff from mum's enormous but ramshackle house I left dad's diaries. I didn't want them, they weren't mine and I wanted no one else reading them either. This is before blogging and selfies where people can edit them selves as they choose and present themselves to the world. I'd had to open them previously to see what they were as the diaries, sketchbooks, logs of customer addresses, teaching notes etc all had similar exteriors. I absolutely hated having my dad's diaries. Within seconds of opening a book I could tell if it was a diary or not. It actually made me feel slightly nauseous, repulsed even. I'd thought about burning the diaries. Dr Wurtenberger, one of the most knowledgable experts on estate management (she runs Arp's estate) said that often grandchildren were a better choice than children in estate management as they were too close to the parent. This wasn't definitive but I get her point only too well. I told Bill, one of dad's closest friends,of my diary burning idea and he said 'Nooooooo, think of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath!' (He famously burnt some of her diaries after her death and just before he died)

So, left in my mother's house were dad's diaries plus all his etching plates and carved woodblocks. These were exquisite but soooo heavy it was ridiculous. What happened is, my mother had a short stay in hospital and the council decided it was going to do a 'deep clean' (their words) on her house the next day, outsourcing it to a private company. The last thing I wanted was for them to 'clean' away lots of tatty cardboard boxes full of etching plates, lumps of old wood and diaries so I called dad's great friend Bill who lives up the road. We swooped in early the next morning, grabbed the boxes and legged it. In a car. My god, have you ever picked up a stack of etching plates?! Bill had a bad back so watched as I loaded the car. Am thinking now that was a bad idea back-wise but it seemed a good one at the time. We took them to the storage unit and wiped the sweat off our brows. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

At Last - The Private View!

March 2015.
This came round pretty damned quick. I had spent several hours (days) contacting people I knew and people I didn't, inviting them to the PV. I felt hugely embarrassed  sitting in my living room, flinching, thinking, 'Jeez, can I really contact so and so?' Then I soon realised no one really cares so I chucked my nervousness in the bin and became rather gleeful, emailing whoever I thought might be interested. It was rather freeing actually. The act of writing the email was all that mattered. If someone wanted to come they could, it was up to them. And boy, did people come. The room that night was packed. One of the gallery staff said very excitedly that she'd not seen it so busy in ages (I think she actually said years but I may have mis-heard, being somewhat intoxicated by the evening myself). It was dad's first show in 14 years.

Anyway, I got a taxi to the opening as I thought today of all days I don't want to use the bloody tube. I had palpitations all the way from South East London to town. On arrival I dived into the disabled loo and emerged radiant and calm, a bit like a Marvel superhero. Not quite Wonder Woman but you get my drift. I went back upstairs looking rather fabulous actually, my Chie Mihara shoes helping enormously. The first people I saw were The Collector with Barry Phipps. The Collector owns many of my dad's works and is especially keen on the Sequence, a series of 197 works, acrylic on paper, done throughout the entirety of dad's career (more of which later). I had had a lengthy phone conversation about what I wanted to do with the estate prior to the show. We had similar plans so decided to work together - it was great to meet him! And he was a nice bloke, which always helps. Barry was great, a (young) Fellow at Cambridge who's done just so many interesting things it's on the verge of bewildering.

The show looked fantastic.I was thrilled. The place was packed. Result. We had Allen Jones talking to Ian Keen from Australia - they went to art college together with dad, various poets and psychotherapists, musicians, translators, art historians and, of course, fellow artists. Dad would have loved it.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fashionable Frames, Shadows And Paintings With Holes in...

Artist and Blue Head
Acrylic on board
 122 x 106.5 cm

So I phoned the Marlborough and told them I was now running the estate. We were all very relieved and decided to have a show. It was actually that simple. Maybe there were lots of machinations behind the scenes but I didn't see any. I was wearing the most incredible pink trousers the day I sat down with the directors. They came up with a date, we discussed the rough content and that was that. At least initially. I hadn't considered THE FRAMES. My dad used to be obsessed with frames. As a kid we'd go to exhibitions all the time whether my brother and I liked it or not (not, usually) and dad would talk about the frames even more than the picture itself, the pictures within seeming relatively incidental. And I thought this was normal. Mind you, to take great or interesting art as a given, as part of the normal fabric of life was a gift. And growing up paying attention to how works are presented is really great training on many levels, although I'm not exactly sure what for. Other than framing. But the aesthetics, colour, tone, hue, lighting of and indeed cost of the frames all come into play. Flat works can become sculptural depending on the frame. Frames are everything.

I wanted to be involved in the choosing of the frames and the Marlborough very kindly agreed for me to be at the meeting with Simon Beaugie who had done dad's frames years ago when he was alive. I felt really strongly that I wanted to stand up for my dad's concerns /passions/irritating yet somehow admirable obsession with frames. Everyone who knew him would sigh and run their fingers through their hair when you mentioned the word 'frames' in the same sentence as dad. The meeting took place in a small and seemingly airless beige room in the basement of the Marlborough gallery. Lots of paintings were stacked up and others laid out, all potentially to be exhibited. Present were myself, one of the directors, Mary Miller, Will Wright, who seemed to be a spokesperson for John Erle-Drax, Simon and two of my dad's friends, Bill and Sheila. The latter two were pretty silent but were there for moral support. Boy, it was bloody stressful. We had costs vs aesthetics and fashion as the primary opposing forces. They were, not unsurprisingly, strong forces. I stood my ground and I left feeling proud but like my head had gone through a mangle.

One of the most interesting (and less painful) discussions was about the above picture. It has several holes bashed into the board, something my dad did periodically to his pictures and other things around the house in general. It was typical of him. He had a foul temper. When I was older, I would open packets of bacon by stabbing it vertically with a sharp kitchen knife and ripping it quite violently along each side, fast and with speed. That's how we opened things in the Kiff household. (Milk or orange cartons were opened with similar vigorous aggression and enthusiasm and as such never poured straight, edges always jagged) As I grew up it became pretty clear this wasn't usual or indeed necessary. I still do it though. Old habits etc.

Anyway, the thickness, width and depth and also type and quality of wood used for the frame was up for debate. Would the wood be washed with a colour or not? And if so, which wash and for which pictures? And which wood? What would the mount be like? We spent hours deciding on various combinations. Much discussion ensued. Simon had a bag full of lumps of wood with washes. Holding these up against the paintings we gradually got an idea of what worked. We kept some pictures in the show purely because they'd already been framed and you saw how cost inevitably dictated contents of a show. Yet these old ones were, by today's fashion considered too thick and clunky. And I could see this. My fight was to not include things just because of the cost. I was battling with my pride, my naivity and my aesthetic integrity. 

But now we had the back of the board to consider. The colour of the mount board was as important. How how far in front of the mount board should the painting be placed? How much shadow would there be? And how did this alter the painting itself? We were effectively adding another colour to the painting. And that's before we considered the lighting. And so we segued into discussing what the painting was actually about. All totally fascinating. Riveting in fact.