Ken Elias

Ken Elias

Imaging Wales

Ken Elias was once the subject of an essay ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’. The title seems deeply ironic. What can the landscapes of Poussin have in common with the depiction of the intimacies of working-class life in a former mining settlement? Yet Elias himself has referred to "the Arcadia of my fifties childhood". His ‘temple’, as it was for many of his generation who grew up in the Fifties, was the cinema at the local Miners’ Welfare Institute, where his Aunt Katy, the subject of many of his paintings, was an usherette. This recalled history is depicted in a painting Blue Skies: the Art Deco cinema is seen in close detail and against a distant, idealised landscape with cypress trees. The ‘real’ landscape has behind it the artificial blue sky, shown within the rectangle of a cinema screen and from the real sky come the dozens of folded paper aeroplanes, symbolising childhood, warmth and generally a caring adult to make them. Elias’ work is not simply nostalgia, it contains a slightly corrosive quality and more than a little chill. There is also the curious electricity of their metaphysical dimension, which conspires to suggest they are not a depiction of real-life at all but life as it is uneasily dreamed. The works are dense and intense; his working method has remained substantially the same since the Sixties: hard-edged images, a species of Pop painting with much use of masking tape. Wesselman and Caulfield come to mind but so do Chagall and de Chirico. But that is not all: a Magic Realist sensibility has been suggested by one critic. And the works are complex, with deep psychological undertones; they possess a freshness and a directness and simplicity of design which takes great nerve. His sensibility has much in common with the best Outsider art.

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