Ken Kiff, RA (29 May 1935 – 15 February 2001) an internationally known figurative artist, was born in Dagenham and trained at Hornsey School of Art 1955-61. He came to prominence in the 1980s thanks to the championship of art critic Norbert Lynton, and a cultural climate intent on re-assessing figurative art following the Royal Academy’s ‘New Spirit in Painting’ exhibition in 1981. He started exhibiting at Nicola Jacob’s gallery, moved to Fischer Fine Art in 1987 and finally to the Marlborough Gallery in 1990, by which time he had begun exhibiting internationally and had work in major public collections. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1991 and became Associate Artist at the National Gallery 1991-93. His 30-year teaching career at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College influenced a generation of students.
Despite his success, Kiff’s position was never a comfortable one. His commitment to the pictorial values of modernism, his deep respect for artists such as Klee, Miro or Chagall, and his ideas about painting were often at odds with prevailing assumptions. In contemporary debates around abstraction versus figuration he tended to push past the battle-lines: ‘colour thinking’ as opposed to ‘image thinking’, pictorial form versus representational meaning, in order to get at something beneath their seeming differences. Images themselves arose out of the stuff of painting and an intimate relationship with a technique. His deep personal knowledge of poetry and music informed his sense of a painting’s structure. He saw colour in terms of images and images in terms of colour, which constituted, as he saw it, “the natural complexity of painting”.