ArtChat [Blog Interview Number 31] – Ken Strong

This month at the gallery Australian artist Ken Strong will be exhibiting alongside ceramic artist Bill Powell in the exhibition entitled Accentuato

Ken's work is characterised by a bold application of paint. The paintings tend to have a non-representational feel with the key compositional elements usually steming from a well structured us of colour or movement. Here artchat catches up with Ken to find out a little more about the man behind the paintings. Ken Strong  AC: Describe your art in one sentence KS: I love the landscape and all it encompasses, and if I can embrace the elements of colour, movement and drama with a story to be told, I am satisfied.

AC: How did your career as an artist come about? Was there a specific moment in time where you went ‘Yup, I’m now an artist’ or was it more of an evolving identity? KS: Ever since I was young, I had a passion for artwork. Originally I used to try to emulate others approaches techniques and learn how it was all done. One day (I’m not sure when) I realised I liked the work I was doing and also realised that I had developed my own identifiable approach. I think this was the moment.

AC: What draws you to depict your subject matter? KS: I am attracted to any subject that is interesting. Sometimes it could be effect I see in a landscape which I endeavour to represent, other times it may be an interesting feature I can incorporate into a composition. Either way, it is something that jumps out and says “paint me”

AC: How did you develop your aesthetic style and were you influenced by anyone in particular KS: My biggest influences early were the impressionists, both Australian and European. Later I discovered the works of Joseph Turner and Brett Whiteley. I love the power and movement used by the Turner and Whiteley in creating their compositions. Nothing is static, your eyes are always looking for new directions around their compositions. I have adopted this concept of incorporating movement combined with strong colour and contrast to define my style.

AC: Can you talk us through the process involved when you start a painting? KS: A few basics - I need an idea. Sometimes this comes easily, sometimes I will get flooded with possibilities - other times I struggle. I will always produce several sketches trying to develop my idea into broad shapes keeping in mind the overall balance of the composition. When I am happy with this, I will try to formulate the basics of my colour balance - all this in the planning phase - no brush as yet touched. I cannot fully resolve all details, much of this will develop when the painting emerges. I transfer my plan to the canvas in pencil or charcoal, establish my dark colours and main pigment contrasts and off I go.

AC: We heard you collect pianos? Is this true and if so how did it start? KS: Jocelyn my wife is a musician and we have always had a piano. 25 years ago we purchased two grand pianos from an auction at the Sydney conservatorium of music to support her study and music teaching business. It was probably at this stage I became fascinated with not only the sound of pianos, but the mechanism. At one stage we had three grands, two upright pianos, a 120 year old operating pianola and an electric piano. Fortunately after a threat of divorce, I managed to unload the two upright pianos (even though this was difficult for me as they were nice pianos!) We still have the grands, the pianola and the keyboard - hence moving house is not an enviable task.

AC: Now getting a little off topic, what is your most memorable food moment? KS: I have a problem with food in that I generally like most of it. (Not crazy about lamingtons but that is about all) I would have to say anything Jocelyn produces is wonderful - she not only is a pastel artist and a musician, but she is also a wonderful cook. If I was to pick another moment outside of home, I would say many of the experiences at the NSW Art Gallery restaurant have been very memorable overlooking the wharves at Woolloomoloo.

AC: Imagine you are on a balcony socialising with friends and it’s a lovely summer’s afternoon, what would be the beverage in front of you? KS: Probably red wine (preferably a Shiraz blend) but I’m not all that fussy - I am also a bit partial to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, verdelho, riesling, rose, champagne or any combinations of the above, or others I may have missed. On a nice hot day, a cool beer is inviting or depending on the previous nights adventures, even at a pinch, a glass of cold water.

AC: Favourite (or possibly worst) child hood memory? KS: At the age of 12, I was fishing in a small boat in Brisbane waters at dusk, when I was sunk by a trawler who ploughed into the side of my boat. I heard it coming but could not release my anchor ropes quickly enough. Fortunately I was able to swim to shore, and the boat was retrieved. I then receiving a blast from the Maritime services board for anchoring in the middle on the channel. I would note that no reference was made to the trawler skipper who was not watching where he was going!

AC: Favourite music to paint to? KS: I like a lot of music, probably the most inspirational for painting would have to be anything to do with Beethoven or Rachmaninov.

AC: If you could invite four people to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be? Joseph Turner – To find out what I am doing wrong Brett Whiteley – To get a few tips on how to live the good side of life Jesus Christ – To clarify a few issues Muhammed - To get a second opinion