- Jeff Keen 1923–2012
- Ink, gouache and printed paper on paper
- Support: 340 x 298 mm
- Purchased 2012
The Visitation 1950 is a collage with gouache in which a bikini-clad magazine model is positioned in a naturalistic, if brutalist and contemporary, environment. At her feet along the base of the composition are collaged images of leaves and vegetation and towards the left of the image is a triffid-like growth whose stem is made up of a collaged image of a man and whose flower is made up of a photographic collage of folk dancers topped by a songbird. The ground on which the two figures (the pin-up and the triffid) sit is a distressed palimpsest of over-painted calligraphic textures.
Together with three other collages of the same date in Tate’s collection (A Poème Choisi 1950, Tate T13662, Figure Defying a Flag 1950, Tate T13663, and Lulu 1950, Tate T13664), The Visitation reveals the shifts in register that Keen’s graphic work was taking at the time; away from a concern with the calligraphic and automatic drawn line – which conflated surrealist and neo-romantic sensibilities to confront the realities of austerity Britain in the throes of postwar reconstruction – towards an identification of popular culture as the material of his artistic language, with collage as the means of delivering a multilayered image. In this Keen shared much with the example provided by artists such as Nigel Henderson (1917–1975) and Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005), both of whom moved, through an awareness of surrealism, towards a use of collage that the architects Alison and Peter Smithson suggested ‘tries to face up to a mass production society, and drag a rough poetry out of the confused and powerful forces which are at work’. (Alison and Peter Smithson, ‘The New Brutalism’, Architectural Design, April 1957, reprinted in The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1990, p.186.)
Keen only made collages in this vein for a short period in the early 1950s, alongside drawings that continue to utilise the conventions of surrealism to convey an increasingly dystopian pop-cultural worldview. However, when he moved to making films, initially with the American poet Piero Heliczer in 1960, a collage and assemblage aesthetic came to underpin both its form and subject. The film historian David Curtis has described Keen’s creation of a pop art film language, unique in Britain at the time, as drawn from the fusing together of a diaristic form with collage animation, producing films that are ‘energetically constructed from layer upon layer of comic strip collage, time-lapse cartooning, languid reconstructions of Hollywood vamps … and graphic image destruction (burning plastic toys, barbed-wire-entanglement-time-lapse graffiti’ (David Curtis, Experimental Cinema: A Fifty-Year Evolution, London 1971, p.149).
After 1960 Keen worked as a pioneering underground filmmaker, embracing especially the practice of expanded cinema. A central member of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative in the 1960s, his filmic and visual language is closely bound up with the mass media (comic books, pulp fiction, television, and established printed forms from newspapers to signage) and he engaged deeply with the language of pop art. His films are formally characterised by the extensive and radical use of stop-frame animation, lending them a frequency of speed not found in the work of other filmmakers of the period. His collage approach to filmmaking as a sharply inter-cut flood of mass-cultural imagery lends a significance to his collages of the early 1950s in which he first explored this effect.
William Fowler, GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen, London 2009.
Jeff Keen: Oeuvres de 1945 à 1978, exhibition catalogue, Galerie du Centre, Paris 2011.