Ken Turner

  • Title: Self Portrait
  • Medium: Oil on hessian and canvas
  • Width: 40.5cm 16in
  • Height: 50.5cm 19 7/8in
  • Year of creation: 1962
  • Notes: Signed ‘Turner’
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Ken Turner’s self-portrait head had the appearance of a semi-cubistic wood-carving come to life. It is noticeable for its thrusting certainties, its firm, lucid outlines, its sunlit blondeness.

Born in Pakistan in 1926, Ken Turner studied at Ealing Art School and, following war service, at the Anglo-French Art Centre in north London, and at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He went on to teach at the Central School of Art and Design in London.

He was around thirty-six when he painted this self-portrait. As an artist he has always sought to break new boundaries, to question the nature of what art can be within an economically oppressive system. He has written:

‘Self portraiture is something I always do but not as a direct image of the head or face. I think it is more than that. It is my whole life (a good self portrait in paint is that anyway).’

This self-portrait has the appearance of a semi-cubistic wood-carving come to life. It is noticeable for its thrusting certainties, its firm, lucid outlines, its sunlit blondeness. Though an academic-style rendition of reality has been exploded and subverted here, the result is neither tenuous nor fragmentary. In fact, the features – including the bizarrely obtruding tongue – are solidly, if abstractly, composed in quite precise planes. The slits for the eyes and the mouth bring an eerie feeling to this absurdist self-portrayal.

Around 2002, he wrote:

‘I think that in the work Ruth has I was trying to go beyond the face into the being. For a few years now I have been reading philosophy, mainly European… Derrida, Guattari, Deleuze and so on and find that it enters my work, being often a starting point… I don’t need to look much these days! I didn’t look too much in the mirror that time, you have to look beyond the mirror to find the real, and even then one is never sure: (re)searching is all.’

Since 1968, Turner has co-founded, and gone on to direct, several groups which promote art in the community through experimental video, performance, sculpture and architecture-based workshops. In 1993, he moved to live in St. Ives in Cornwall. Since the early 2000s, he has been making computer-assisted drawings.