Kenneth Draper RA

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© Kenneth Draper 2017 :


Royal Academy of Arts, London

Kenneth Draper transforms small things into worlds, wanting to draw our attention to the huge natural forces behind the existence of even the most inconspicuous plant.  That romantic insight has always hovered around his work, and in the new pictures he tries to grasp it and give it a physical, three-dimensional reality.  Going into the landscape to observe the facts of nature does not “obliterate Imagination” for Draper, as it did for William Blake.  Rather, it increases his freedom to compose.  The new constructed landscapes are not visionary in any transcendental sense, but they are certainly works in which Draper’s mind and vivid imagination play a key role.  As the Menorcan landscape takes closer hold on his emotions, his pictures are still invigorated by repeated looking, but now more poetic invention than topographic, they are coloured and exalted by memory.

His journey to this point has had a career-long period of gestation, in which Leonardo da Vinci and J.M.W. Turner, in particular, have profoundly affected his thinking. Looking back over forty years, the transformation in his work has been one of gradual unfolding, rather than sudden change.  Moving between sculpture, painting and drawing, and blending the three in his constructions on paper, he has brought his ideas to recognisably new conclusions in the recent landscapes.   In this essay I want to give a sense of the look and pulse of the Menorcan environment, which, as Draper says, “continually fires my imagination”.¹  And I want to explore the fine balance he achieves in his new constructions on paper and his pastel drawings between the actual experience of Menorca and his imaginary, but none the less real, explorations, in which each discovery on paper must surprise him as much as it does us.

Since his return from London after serious illness at the end of 2004, Draper’s close kinship with the landscape has become more meditative and more expansive. For the time being he has given up working directly from a motif.  Instead he revisits spaces where he has already worked, looking intently, absorbing the colour and what he senses as the energy of the place.  He may sit in a quarry all day until the light fades, walk along the coast collecting occasional objects thrown up by the tide, spend the day in a boat or snorkelling. Memory has become his sketchpad.  By trusting more to memory he allows the whole experience of the landscape to inform him in its many small details and, as he imagines, its grander galactic configuration.

The concentrated effort involved in extracting the essence of this expanding experience has focused his recent choice of subjects.  He is more conscious of particular kinds of events that interest him, such as seasons, times of day, weather, the nature of rock and earth, and the plant life dependent on this environment.  The emergent work is not about specific locations.  Each is a fresh composition around Draper’s overall experience of Menorca, as well as about the emotions that he projects into the landscape.  For him, it is these concerns that lift the work beyond the facts of an actual event.  “If you’re an artist of place and the feelings about that place, then those feelings are also being created when you’re making the work of art.  I don’t want to make a construction or a drawing that reminds the viewer of a place.  I want it to be the place.  The event is in the picture.”  The question he addresses in the studio is, “Where does that event start, and where does it finish?”  Since each of his pictures is a continuation of the last, and since each is prompted by different thoughts and feelings, the full experience will only emerge from some sort of summation, which he calls a “total event”.  To capture something of it, his tendency is to work on at least three or four pieces at a time, often finishing relatively quickly a set of pictures that he has been working on for a long time.

Although for lengthy periods in Draper’s career his work has concentrated exclusively on either sculpture or painting, drawing continued to form an important part of his practice.  Like many artists, he enjoys its immediacy, and has always used the tradition to work out his sculptural ideas directly on paper.  All the coloured works on paper, whether in pencil, gouache, or pastel, have this same directness for him, aligning them more closely with drawing than with painting.  He sees this integrated and unhierarchical approach to his media, moving between drawing, painting and sculpture, as a way of achieving his ambition to grasp, as he puts it, “the totality of my experience”.

¹  All quotations in the text, unless otherwise referenced, are taken from conversations recorded with the artist in June 2005.

²    I am indebted to Dr. Roger White for information on the island’s geology.

Kenneth Draper - Royal Academy of Arts Exhibition


Judith Bumpus

Eclipsed Labyrinths : 1978

Spring Tide : 1984

Mountain : 1989

 Light Through Dark The Fall ) :  1990

Sapling : 2005

Autumn Sacrifice : 2005

Eclipse : 2005

Solid Shadows : 2005

Dark Reef : 2005

Heaven’s Breath : 2005

Silver Moon Golden Light


Intrusion : 2005

Pregonda Light : 2005

Towards Pregonda : 2005

Quarry Celebration : 2005

Broken Stones : 2005

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