Meet: Ken Turner
Artist Ken Turner has recently opened his first solo exhibition, Soliloquy, at Tension Fine Art Gallery, where he is also the Director. He describes the mixed-media installation as a “visual and audio expression, it’s that which I cannot say by words alone”.
Ken has also experienced Central Saint Martins (CSM) across 2 campuses; he completed his BA in Critical Fine Art in the 1990s when CSM was at Charing Cross, and in 2021 he graduated with an MA in Contemporary Photography Practices and Philosophies.
We were eager to find out more about his experiences at CSM, as well as learn more about how he balances developing his own practice with running a gallery.
Can you tell us about your experiences at CSM? What had changed? And had anything remained the same?
They were 2 very different experiences, my BA was 5 years part-time, and at that time CSM was still in Charing Cross Road. We used to have our lunch and tea breaks in Soho or China Town. Five years was a long time, but it was also an amazing opportunity to do extended research. We went in one day a week (Friday), mostly for crits and tutorials, and once they were over I'd spend the rest of my time visiting galleries or the library.
My MA was based at Granary Square. It’s a very different building to Charing Cross, you get to see and meet students from more courses; fashion, architecture etc. which is great. I was surprised that some of my old tutors and technicians were still teaching, and they remembered me too! The one thing that felt really the same was the feeling of being part of a community, the staff are so enthusiastic and willing to help you thrive.
The big difference is the internet, it was in its infancy when I did my BA; everything was paper handouts and you had to check the notice board. Now everything seems to be online, which can be frustrating but it’s also a great way to keep in contact and share information and images of your work.
Can you tell us about your own practice? Has your practice changed since your BA?
My practice is quite wide in terms of media that I work with, and I try not to limit that. Drawing was, and possibly still is, the core of my practice but it doesn’t always express my intentions. My work is often process-driven. I enjoy experimenting, mixing media and processes, taking a drawn image and converting it to a photo or video or vice-versa. Perhaps a sculptural piece made into video, silkscreen or even a performance.
I try not to limit the way I work and always ask myself ‘what would happen if I tried this?’ The biggest change has been the confidence to accept failure as a positive step forward. For me being an artist is about being experimental and what someone might consider a failure is a step towards success.
You’re about to open your first solo exhibition, Soliloquy at Tension Fine Art Gallery. Can you tell us more about the work on display.
I've been thinking about doing a solo show since Tension opened in 2019 and I’m always being asked about my work and will I show it. I start an MFA at Goldsmiths in September and I feel I'm as ready as I probably ever will be. I have lots of ideas for pieces of work that never seem to get made, so I've made some for the show.
I was diagnosed as dyslexic at the beginning of my MA. It was a relief as it put my academic struggles into perspective and helped me understand why expression through art is so important to me. I see art as performative in so many ways.
Soliloquy as a show is a visual and audio expression, it’s that which I cannot say by words alone. In some ways, it’s an expression of my personal journey and my understanding of what self-expression means to me and its importance to me.
The show is a mixture of my videos, sculptures, paintings and collages. It’s colourful with some humour and sadness perhaps. The show consists of work made between 2019 and 2022 so includes work and ideas I've been working on through lockdown and my MA graduation.
How does it feel to be opening your first solo show?
It feels a little daunting. In a group, you have others to share the experience and responsibilities with. It feels like I'm bearing my soul, a visual expression of soliloquy to the world.
You're the Director of Tension Fine Art Gallery in southeast London where you show contemporary and experimental art. Can you tell us about the history of Tension?
There really isn’t much history as yet. I opened Tension in April 2019. I'd been considering opening a gallery for a long time. In June 2019 my daughter Natasha came back from travelling in Australia. It was earlier than planned because she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.
She was a very bright, positive person. She worked part-time and helped me with the gallery admin. It was great working together; she helped a lot with setting up systems and technical stuff too. Sadly, in October 2020 aged just 29, she lost her battle with cancer. It was and still is, devastating for all our family and her friends. Natasha would have wanted Tension to continue.
How do you balance the business of the gallery with developing your own practice?
It’s an intense balancing act at times; as well as the gallery and my practice I also work to pay the bills. I feel lucky to enjoy everything I do and that I’m involved with. I meet interesting people all the time and none of it feels like work. The hardest part of my practice is getting time for making, so I often draw or take photos when I’m on the move and that satisfies my artistic needs.
You frequently exhibit work by recent CSM graduates at Tension, including the upcoming Graduate Showcase in July 2022. How important is supporting new artists to you?
As a gallery and on a personal level I think it’s immensely important to support new artists. Being both a gallerist and an artist is for me about being part of a community and supporting one another.
After both my BA and MA graduations I was asked to take part in group shows or my work was shortlisted for awards. On a personal level being in an exhibition straight after graduating can be a confidence booster. It’s just at a time when you really need to be spurred on. So, I think it’s very important to try and support and encourage graduates to keep developing their practices when they leave university.
Soliloquy is on at Tension Fine Art until 16 July 2022.
Explore current and upcoming exhibitions at Tension Fine Art: tensionfineart.co.uk