It is with sadness that we announce that unique, playful, visceral artist and filmmaker Jeff Keen passed away, aged 88, on 21 June. Very much a maverick, Keen maintained independent film production in his native Brighton for nearly fifty years. He worked predominantly in the domestic formats of 8mm and video, as well as 16mm, and worked with friends and family to create quick-fire, napalm-inflected live action, animation collage films that reference everything from Surrealism and William Blake to westerns, B movies and Predator.
Keen developed a passionate interest in art and reading from an early age, but it was his experiences in World War Two that honed and propelled his art practice into relentless action. Films Cineblatz (1967), Kino Pulveriso (1993) and Artwar (1994) directly reference his experiences in National Service, though almost all his work can be said to evoke ideas about struggle and violence, whether it’s through their extreme, frenetic pace or a focus on the lone, mythic hero.
Flik Flak (1963)
Although Keen started making films in his late 30s, the works have typically appealed to people immersed in street and youth cultures: skaters and punks for instance – perhaps more so than followers of the British avant-garde. His films have screened in cinemas and festivals internationally, as well as in shops and galleries in Brighton. Many who knew him and worked on his films are surprised that his work is not better known. Exposure has, however, increased in recent years and with gallery shows on the horizon, including a special presentation at Tate Modern this September, more and more people look sure to find out about Jeff Keen and his gang of family movie stars: Motler, Baby Jelly, Vulvana and of course Keen’s own alternate persona: Dr Gaz. RIP Jeff Keen, Long Live Dr Gaz!
“Jeff Keen was one of Britain’s most unique cultural voices, a pioneer who transformed cinema through a vivid sensibility fuelled by surrealism, comics and B-movies. His rapid-fire animations, multiple screen projections and raucous performances redefined multimedia art in the UK. The Brighton-based artist’s work remains a powerful evocation of the violence, colour, speed and noise of the 20th Century.”
– Stuart Comer, Film Curator, Tate Modern
“I first saw Jeff’s films at Better Books and the Arts Lab in the mid-60s, a revelation of his underground and multi-screen cinema. Blatant and raw, but subtle and lyrical too, they celebrated the hand-made film, the multi-track sound loop and layers of superimposed images to the point of white-out. Friends and family were his cast, and his imagery shot the rapids from his own brilliant drawings to eye-bruising single-frame cut-ups of pop culture. A truly self-taught man, his knowledge of artists, writers and filmmakers was wide and deep, the frames of his films packed with allusions to his sources and favourites such as ‘D.Duck and Co’ and ‘The Surrealist New Myth’. One of only a handful of film artists in the UK when he began, Jeff was an independent spirit who for the next forty years never ceased to make new work in new media. It was a privilege and pleasure to have known him, and to celebrate the recognition of his films and graphic art now reaching even wider audiences on DVD and in the gallery.”
– Al Rees, Senior Research Fellow, The Royal College of Art
“A visit to Jeff’s house was, I imagine, a lot like visiting Francis Bacon’s studio: so many things to see – paintings, drawings, comics, toys, melted stuff, collages, and on the walls layer upon layer of a lifelong history of art-making. During the decade we were running the Cinematheque in Brighton, an evening we all looked forward to was Jeff’s annual screening – every year he would say it would probably be his last, but he always came back to do another, and each time he would explode his images across the screen, outside of the screen, onto the audience, building up to a cacophony of noise unlike anything normally heard in the cinema. Truly expanded.”
– Ben Rivers, filmmaker