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Jon Snow in Conversation with John Keane

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Published date 01 December 2016

The Flowers Gallery hosted a special ‘in conversation’ event between Camberwell alumnus and former Official British War Artist John Keane, and UAL honorary and television presenter Jon Snow in November.

The pair were introduced in 2009 when Keane was commissioned to paint a portrait of Snow to mark his 20th anniversary with Channel 4. Following the portrait commission, Snow interviewed Keane for the television series ‘The Genius of British Art’ in 2010, and they have remained in touch. The territory that Keane has explored in his career as a painter has often overlapped with Snow’s own.

The event coincided with Keane’s exhibition at the gallery, entitled “If You Knew Me. If You Knew Yourself. You Would Not Kill Me”. This series of new paintings was produced in response to the commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The title of the exhibition refers to the words that were found on a banner suspended within a church memorial site in Rwanda.

Keane said: “During my visit to Rwanda I was deeply impressed by the way it has sought to come to terms with the appalling events of 1994. Partly this is through commemoration, which takes many forms, and does not seek to hide or shrink from the enormity of what happened.”

Keane revealed that his Father, who had been a Prisoner of War for 3 and a half years, is part of what inspired him to become a War Artist. The catalyst was the Falklands War and the violence and extremes of the human condition that it produced. Keane started creating his art in an attempt to understand the war from a point of incomprehension.


When asked how he stays hopeful, Keane described the process of creating as cathartic and explained that by peering into the abyss, he found a way to process it. His work always seeks to find something redemptive and uplifting, and he found Rwanda to actually be a hopeful and positive place 20 years on.

Addressing the issue of the role of a War Artist, Keane said, ‘It’s a very quaint and uniquely British tradition. For me, I believe the role to be the same as a conscientious reporter – someone who brings the truth as well as they can.’

Asked if he ever fears being type cast as a War Artist, he replied, ‘No – I have a never ending desire to comprehend why people want to kill each other.’

John Keane’s reputation as a political artist has been established through a sustained artistic inquiry into the horrors of military and social conflicts around the world, and the effects of media distortion. His subjects have included Northern Ireland, Central America and the Middle East; and has involved working with organisations such as Greenpeace and Christian Aid. Keane first came to prominence when he was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in 1990 to be the Official British War Artist of the Gulf War. In recent years he has also become known for commissioned portraits of notable individuals such as Mo Mowlam and Kofi Annan.


Read more about the exhibition here

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