Interview with Craig Keenan
Why you should never tell Craig Keenan ‘I could have done that’...
Creating beautiful, enigmatic cyanotypes, Craig has become a highly-sought after emerging artist, winning the Secret Art Prize in 2014 and selling-out at last year’s Battersea Art Fair.
We decided to catch up with him about the cyanotyping process, how he chooses his subject matter, and why armchair could-have-beens get his back up…
Curious Duke Gallery (CDG): Tell me us a bit about cyanotyping. What is it, and how did you get into it?
Craig Keenan (CK): The cyanotype printing process was invented in 1842 as an alternative method to silver nitrate printing, which is a fairly costly process.
The process was developed by John Herschel who considered it mainly as a means of reproducing notes and diagrams, as in blueprints. It was used to make the world's first photographically illustrated book “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” by Anna Atkins in 1884.
CDG: How do you choose what to cyanotype?
CK: I enjoy experimenting with the process - through this I’ve started to let the limiting factors of the process (the colour blue) dictate the subject matter more often than not.
Skies, underwater shots etc. lend themselves well to the process naturally. But sometimes I’ll make something and just force it into being blue. I read a quote by Peter Henry Emerson which says “No one but a vandal would print a landscape in red, or in cyanotype.”
I love shit like that, grandiose overblown statements about what art is, like anyone in the world has any kind of authority over what’s creatively valid or not. Anyway, I print a lot of landscape imagery too and essentially that’s because i enjoy photographing landscapes.
CDG: What was the most difficult piece to create from the Blueprint collection?
CK: The most challenging thing I’ve made to date was probably a 110x300cm piece, so big I had to spit the negative up into four sections in order to have it printed then tape it back together - then print and frame it in two sections because i simply didn’t have access to paper that size!
Then I think probably the most challenging part was framing it! (I frame all my own work.)
CDG: What’s the one thing you love most about cyanotypes?
CK: The thing I love most about cyanotypes is probably the control of applying the light sensitive area onto the substrate - essentially I’m able to paint photographs which for me is super satisfying.
CDG: Tell me a bit about the ‘But you didn’t...’ series. What’s the idea behind it, and how did it come about?
CK: I wanted to use the platform of a solo show to offer some opinions I have with regards to people's attitudes towards abstract art - not in a dickish way - but just as a playful push back to those who claim possibly one of the most irksome things I ever hear: “I could’ve done that.”
To those people I say: “Perhaps you could have, but you didn’t.”
No one asked for a rundown on what you could or couldn’t do, and to assume that this artist created this piece means their work is devoid of talent or skill or truth or a message is a gross oversight and sad misunderstanding of why most creatives create.
I’d like point to some very obvious examples of super famous artists whom some folks may not be aware were in possession of insane skills that aren’t immediately evident in their most famous works: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso to name just three (in fact, the first time I ever heard this phrase was with regards to the Picasso.)
A lot of people say to me “You’re lucky. I wish I could be creative.”
And to them I say: “You can.” It’s really that simple. The main difference between that person and me is impetus. This is what I spend my time and money doing what I think about every single day, because I want to. Whether I’m earning money from it or not. You’re afforded the same access to the shops and studios I buy tools from and create in. The point here is if you really wanted to, you would, and therefore could.
You may not like it, and almost certainly won’t buy it to adorn your walls - but it’s not for you. It’s for the artist, and then for the people who dig it.
If you want to say “I could have done that” that’s ok I guess. But the real point is, you could have, maybe, but you didn’t.
CDG: How do you feel your style as an artist is developing, and what themes would you like to explore in the future?
CK: My style as an artist has been defined by the cyanotype process. I guess there’s a strong and inadvertent level of branding that comes with the fact that everything I make is blue! I feel my skill in execution of ideas gets better with practice and the more I learn the more I’m able to develop and change my approach or subject matter or style.
Something I was encouraged to do by the excellent Eleni of Curious Duke Gallery was to make bigger work. And now I’ve got a feel for it, making bigger and bigger pieces is an area I’d like to push myself in.
Be sure not to miss Craig’s show, Blueprints, NOW at Curious Duke Gallery.