CV & REVIEWS
Born Warwickshire and studied fine art at Coventry College of Art 1965 – 1969. Lived in London since 1970, sponsored by Oppenheimer Investment House, New York, 1972 -74 Exhibited in various group and one-man shows in London, the UK and New Mexico with work in private collections in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
He taught at the Camden Institute from 1974, where he was successively Senior Lecturer in Painting and from 1982, Head of Arts and Crafts. He retired from full time education in 1997 and returned to painting but continued to teach various art groups.
In 2008 he was commissioned by the Tate Gallery Archive to write a memoir of his time as a student at Coventry College of art during a radical change in teaching methods and its influence on the development of contemporary British art. The document was also a memoir of a ten year close friendship with the art historian, critic and commentator Barbara Reise which began when she was senior lecturer in art history and West was a student. Reise’s position in the development of international contemporary art was largely forgotten at her untimely death in 1978, that is until her extensive archive was rescued by Sir Nicholas Serota and after ten years research and meticulous cataloguing by Tate Head Archivist, Adrian Glew, accessioned the archive in 2008 and on the Internet: TGA-786/
Keith West: Memoir of Coventry College of Art and Barbara Reise TGA-20121-7
Sacred + Profane
Lauderdale House, Highgate, London 2005
The sacred is entitled to reverence; the profane is characterized by contempt for sacred things. Yet Keith West’s paintings attempt to portray the dangerous conjunction of both by presenting a contemporary take on some of art history’s most potent themes.
The stories of the Israelite heroine Judith, who seduced and then decapitated the Babylonian captain Holofernes, and Salome, who danced before King Herod and demanded the head of John the Baptist as her reward, have served as subject matter for many artists from Cranach and Mantegna onwards. At the end of the nineteenth century, these women were presented as femmes fatales in images by Moreau, Munch, Klimt and Beardsley displaying heady mixtures of sexuality and death.
Instead of following this path, West prefers to give his scenes a modern coolness: Salome gazes at us confidently in leather evening wear with cigarette in hand, the head of John wrapped neatly on its salver beside her, while Judith cradles the head of Holofernes as she displays it to her companion.
The beautiful young Israelite David, who killed the Philistine leader Goliath with a stone from his sling, has also inspired artists, notably Caravaggio who portrayed himself as the victim. West’s image has the famous painter and film-maker Derek Jarman, as the victim, presaging Jarman’s own sad death. West does not shy away from finding inspiration in his own sexuality. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is a despairing pin-up with cigarette stubs and a spilt beaker of coffee, and a painting of the young gay man Matthew Shepherd who was hung on a fence and left to die in Wyoming has strong echoes of Christ on the cross.
West’s images explore ”issues of rejection, estrangement and isolation”, and reflect “an ever-present sense of uncertainty and anxiety”.
Avoiding any hint of self-pity, he has used his obvious technical abilities and art-historical knowledge to great effect in his marriage of the sacred and the profane.
(Author of The Erotic Arts, Biography of David Hockney and Leonor Fini)
Sacred + Profane
Gallery 47, Great Russell Street, London 2006
Recently, I was in the archaeological museum of Athens, where the classical statues of naked youths and maidens, though shattered, struck me, as never before, with the wonder of eroticism. This eroticism seemed to me all the more wonderfully evocative for the historical fact that many of the nudes – for example, the muscular, somewhat languid youths in relief on funerary stele – were meant to portray the triumph of life over death, with, however, the constant awareness deeply within them of the tragedy of death in life. I am reminded of just these figures in studying the paintings by Keith West, charged as they are with the acute sense of the sensual body, and also with the vulnerability of the body in suffering, in violence, in death. There is in the paintings of Keith West the struggle of the beautiful naked body to be itself against a world that is so ready to destroy it, all the more paradoxically when the destroyer is himself a beautiful David. Keith West brings great nobility to that struggle.
20 August 2006
(Author The Ghost of Henry James, The Francoeur Family, The Pure
Lover, Difficult Women and autobiographical - Becoming a Londoner)
Sacred + Profane – Dreams and Visions
Gallery 47, Great Russell Street, London 2008
Keith West’s paintings begin in personal memories of people, of events and of works of art. He recognizes in the form and subject matter of paintings, literature and music an embodiment of feelings which he can unlock and share. And by reversing this process, he embodies, defines and preserves his own feelings and invites us to recognize and share them. The means he uses complement the traditional art forms which act as his inspiration. Central to his art is the figure which he approaches from within a naturalistic and deliberately hesitant academic aesthetic. He hesitates meaningfully too, between that seen and that imagined but finally puts emphasis on the former without losing the latter.
If the figures are beautiful the beauty seems to have been witnessed in the flesh but whether beautiful or not the figures possess an understated eloquence and presence derived from the sensitive use of pose and stance. The figures may be clothed, the clothing tight about the body, partly clothed or stripped. If stripped they exist on a borderline between the naked and the nude, often, though not always, with the genitals obscured or hidden. Space and colour are made to defer to the figure or figures. If not alone and isolated the figures are juxtaposed rather than related. They exist in relation to the artist rather than each other. If there is contact it is in conflict, in collision and if there is a sense of release it takes place as a metamorphosis with animal energy replacing human control. Without this conflict or metamorphosis the figures hold back from their roles; they become the players, the models, the men. Particularly when the bodies are male and nude, physical and mental states interpenetrate each other achieving not harmony but a poignant tension.
9th September 2008
(Independent art historian specializing in the art of the Italian
Renaissance. He regularly lectures for the National Gallery and until recently taught for Birkbeck College, Regents College and Kingston
“Who’s your favorite artist?”
“How strange… I’m writing a screen play for a film about him”
“Young men will be the death of you…”Ain’t it the truth…”
Artist and film maker Derek Jarman in conversation with the artist 1976: Jarman died of an HIV related illness in 1994
A victim of bureaucracy : Sacred + Profane at Lauderdale House
Keith West’s exhibition Sacred + Profane includes a painting of David and Goliath whose severed head is based on Derek Jarman. The painting evolved from a conversation with the film maker during a photography session. They discovered a mutual passion for Caravaggio who famously painted the same biblical subject. The conversation ended with West suggesting that young men would be the death of Jarman who replied, prophetically in view of his death from an Aids related illness: “Ain’t it the truth.”
In the photographs, Jarman’s head appeared decapitated because he wore a black jacket with the collar turned up, inspiring West’s painting.
West is former head of arts at Camden Institute from where he took early retirement to return to painting “with a vengeance” in 2003. He feels the David and Goliath painting chimes not only with Jarman’s fate but his own battles with institutional bureaucracy.
Peter Webb who wrote the brochure for the exhibition, says: “West does not shy away from finding inspiration in his own sexuality: ‘Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane’ is a despairing gay pin-up surrounded by cigarette stubs and spilt beaker of coffee and a painting of the young gay man Matthew Shepherd who was hung on a fence and left to die has strong echoes of Christ on the Cross”
The exhibition opens on Monday at Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, until November 20th (2005) Sacred + Profane Exhibition
Keith West is a member of the cathedral congregation who has been involved in the organisation of the Big Draw project with Sue Keeling and team, and has been asked by Cannon Iain Lane to be a member of the Methodist Art Collection exhibition team next year. His show of paintings runs at Lauderdale House, Highgate, London from 8 to 20 November and the title Sacred + Profane refers to conflicts w all face throughout our lives. West says his images explore ‘issues of rejection, estrangement and isolation, and reflect ‘an ever-present sense of uncertainty and anxiety’.
Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban Magazine October 2005
“That’s enough about sex and drugs and rock and roll… let’s talk about lilies…”
Author Edna O’Brien in conversation with the artist 1978
“It’s definitely me. You’ve not only painted my portrait but also captured the character of me in role.”
Dame Janet Baker in conversation with the artist 2005
“Your work is just this side of surreal…”
Wayne Sleep in conversation 2008
“No luck with the Threadneedle I’m afraid... everyone I supported was outvoted by the rest of the panel. Your work has great merit.”
Letter from art critic Brian Sewell 2010
“Thanks Brian, your support means more than winning the Threadneedle any day.”
Letter to Brian Sewell