An Interview With John Kaye

Today is the 21st of March 2013. It is one day before the preview of evening of Mr John Kaye's exhibition, which opens to the public on Saturday 23rd. Before this exciting exhibition premiers  I thought I would take the opportunity to interview John whilst he was in this afternoon. But first, a bit of background information on John himself. John Kaye was born in 1950 in Marsden, West Yorkshire. He grew up in the 'Last of the Summer Wine' countryside that is Moors Chapels and Co-ops. He attended Colne Valley High, progressing on to Batley Art College for his pre-diploma in art and design. From here he was accepted by Wimbledon for a diploma in Theatre Design and Fine Art.

But John didn't actually go.

Indeed, he changed directions and undertook a 4 year BA in Social Studies, moving into social work thereafter, having had his outlook on the world changed radically by a summer job at a large psychiatric hospital before his degree at Wimbledon would have begun. His work was mainly in the field of mental health, health, homelessness and the voluntary sector. Latterly, he was director and chief officer of MIND and Voluntary Action Leeds, both based in West Yorkshire. These experiences are strong influences on his work.

Despite having little time for painting, exhibitions and collecting helped John continue his love of art and architecture. John picked up painting again at the turn of the 21st Century and shortly after this he took early retirement. His work began with two series:

Shrine - a series relating to his interest in the sociology of religion and the role of religious art in the ritual and development of culture and society; not only the paintings and artefacts but the buildings, temples, iconography and the very environments where religious activities and practises take place.

Garden - a series relating not only to the history of gardens but how gardens define the space in which we live, work and relax. Recurring themes have been mazes, enclosure and paths to buildings and follies which return to the interaction of mankind working within landscapes and religious environments.

His current work continues with these themes but also has brought in the wider areas of landscapes such as the moors, parks and large cities. Recently, driving across Europe to Bulgaria saw John be influenced by lights and colours and different societies. Byzantine art and architecture in Istanbul and Nessebar have become big influences in his work, which can be seen prominently in the works we will be displaying in the exhibition.

Another important part of John's work is his contact with a master icon painter based in Bulgaria. Furthermore, the study of the technique of icon painting and the use of gold leaf have played important parts. This has been developed to bring in the etching symmetry and attention to detail that is a constant feature in his work. His works are in collections in the UK, Bulgaria, America and Australia.

And that is the story of John Kaye. I've had a chat to him and here's what he had to say.

(I'm in bold. John is not.)

Firstly, you tend to elaborate on images and colours in multiple works across the three series (Shrines, Houses and Gardens) we are exhibiting. Can you explain some examples of this and why you do this in your work?

I see one idea that leaps off another, for example the English country house. With this you have to walk half a mile before seeing one thing; but I have created of these various, separate things one imagined landscape. Also it's the landscape in a historical sense. The studies of Beningborough, where some images are historical paintings from when it was built, its part of the historical story of the building. With Shrines it's my interest in the common threads that run through the sociology of religion. A lot of work is underpinned by Russian orthodox, Byzantine, Greek Orthodox, etc. To become a master icon painter you have to follow a certain formula, but I've used the iconography in a much freer way, especially with the etching in the gold leaf.

The other thing with all of these pieces is they read as images, yet are also abstract in symmetry, relationship, spacing and colour, all worked to a greater or lesser extent as a greater abstract concept.

We have several studies of yours for sale - why do you complete such detailed studies and do you do them with a view to selling them?

Initially I do not do them with a view to sell them; actually Rod persuaded me to sell them. I like to try things out but I don't like to leave things unfinished. I tend to work on them. Sometimes I move from the study, to the piece, back to the study. With the Beningborough series, I'm already working on two more paintings which are not on such a grand scale, but will elaborate on some of the features within the current paintings. Funnily enough with these works, because of two paintings which have recently been purchased by the arts fund of a house in Wales, 16th and 17th century ones, I'm now looking to paint the southern face of the hall and incorporate a landscape based on those pieces. It's about multi-perspective. Its a bit like incorporating the two forms of Google - satellite and street view.

There are faux plants in the exhibition space. Do you feel this adds to the exhibition space and it atmosphere?

The idea of the plants doesn't bother me at all, I quite like them. They are an art form anyway, fake or not. Plants play a big part in the paintings I do, sometimes they are free and sometimes they are formal. I think it compliments the exhibition. I have a lot of experience of feeling like I'm intruding in exhibition spaces in places like London and I think in a good exhibition space people feel welcome and at ease, able to ask people about the art and converse and have chatter. Live music also can help people to enjoy it as part of a positive experience.

Why do you find your subjects so fascinating? This goes back many years. When I was first at art college when I was a bit of a rebel. I was told to loosen up but that just wasn't my style. Following this I tended to still have ideas about religion and society. A lot of my actual work was very intense and stressful, so the art I see as linked to that. It's part of me.

Has relating your art and travel together illuminated anything to about yourself and your future? Immensely. I see common links across art and religion and what an important part it played for the Mayans, the Greeks, they didn't see it as art in its own right but as a feature of religion that accompanied it. Only since the renaissance mankind has seen fine art as a different thing. Travelling a lot, architecture, not just art in galleries, influences me a great deal. Travelling via Bulgaria and Nothern Italy has been very interesting. It takes a lot to get images down, I make notes and sketch what I am seeing.

John's exhibition opens on Saturday and alongside the Julie Dodsworth Giftware Section is sure to be a hit!