Ian McKeever (b. 1946) Sand and Sea Series No. 8

Ian McKeever (b. 1946) Sand and Sea Series No. 8


Ian McKeever was born in Withernsea, in Yorkshire in 1946. He is a sculptor, painter, draughtsman, photographer and teacher. In 1965 he began studying English Literature at Avery Hill College of Education, but in 1969 he opted for a career in fine art instead and rented a studio from SPACE, an artists’ collective working at St Katherine’s Dock, in the heart of London’s Dockland. His first exhibition took place in 1971 when he was invited to participate in an exhibition of SPACE artists in Berlin. Through this contact he began lecturing at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Since then he has taught extensively in Great Britain, Germany and the USA. Also in 1971 he had a solo show at Cardiff Arts Centre. In the mid 1970s he consequently realised a number of projects in the countryside around London. In 1980-81 he spent a year in Liverpool as a guest of Walker Art Gallery at Bridewell Studios. In 1989 McKeever was given the prestigious DAAD scholarship to live and work in Berlin. This was followed in 1990 by a major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. McKeever has held various teaching positions, including guest Professor at the Stadel Akademie der Kunst in Frankfurt, and is now a visiting Professor at the University of Brighton. In 2003 he was elected Royal Academician and in 2006 was made Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy Schools of Art. McKeever has written numerous texts and essays on art, including Black and White and How to Paint with a Hammer in 1982, Thoughtson Emil Nolde in 1996 and In Praise of Painting, three essays in 2005. As well as a painter, McKeever is a naturally gifted printmaker who has worked in etching, dry point, woodcut and lithography. In 2008 a selection of his prints were exhibited at Tate St Ives as part of a tribute to the etcher Hugh Stoneman with whom he collaborated on numerous occasions. He lived in Hartgrove, Dorset.


McKeever has been influenced by land art and especially by the writings of Robert Smithson. McKeever first exhibited installations of large paintings which envelop the viewer, and incorporate material taken from the wild. He is much interested in the way light is portrayed in painting as well as contrast in colour. ‘The quality of light in painting intrigues me enormously: how to imbue a painting with light so that one is not actually depicting it, but somehow its quality is implicitly within the painting – almost emanating from within it.’ [1]

Early on his work was landscape-based, reflecting the many journeys he made to places such as Greenland, Papua New Guinea and Siberia. In the late 1970s he changed direction however and began to make more gestural abstract paintings. These were still the result of research on site, in the form of drawings and photographs (which were often attached to the canvas to form a ground for the paint), but they marked a decisive move towards more subjective and Romantic interests. Typically at this time he worked with diptych formats, pairing a large photographic image with a painted surface. Beside the Bramble Ditch (1983) is typical of his violent, choppy and gestural abstraction of the early 1980s, the strong contrast of white against darker colours suggesting a pattern which would continue over the next two decades. In the early 1990s he evolved a softer style of billowing veils and dramatic spatial effects. Hartgrove Painting No2 (1992), a large black and white canvas from a series made at his rural Dorset home, exemplifies McKeever’s use of grid structures in this period, and further demonstrates his interest in colour contrasts.

Ian McKeever is one of this country’s foremost painters and one of the few today who takes on the big issues of life. His painting is intuitive, emotional, physical and, at the same time, deeply intelligent.

Selected Exhibitions

  • 2011 – Watercolour, Tate Britain, London (group)
  • 2010 – Artists Laboratory 01: Ian McKeever, The Royal Academy of Arts, London (solo)
  • 2010 – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen (solo)
  • 2009 – Monograph: Ian McKeever – Paintings, Kings Place Gallery, London (solo)
  • 1995 – Contemporary British Art in Print, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (group)
  • 1990 – Ian McKeever: Retrospective Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London (solo)
  • 1978 – Sand and Sea Series, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh (solo)

Biography and internet links

  • · LLOYD, Jill, Ian McKeever: Recent Paintings and Ten Years of Drawing, Kettle’s Yard, 2004, p.2
  • · www.ianmckeever.com
  • · www.royalacademy.org.uk/academicians/painters/ian-mckeever
  • · www.tate.org.uk


· [1] http:/www.royalacademy.org.uk/academicians/painters/ian-mckeever-ra,192,AR.html

Victoria Highfield