If I were the Devil…..
Until a few years ago Keith Maiden was a struggling artist who had to resort to buying the cheapest brushes from his local art shop. Keith also chose the most cost effective black and white materials over oils which later served to create his signature monochrome style. I talk to the storytelling master, the king of raw and the technical genius at his home in Shrewsbury.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I was born in Ashmore park Wolverhampton and had the opportunity to attend art college at 16. Times were tough back then and I chose to earn a living to help my parents instead. I went on to work as a designer for international retail brands until about three years ago and that was when I picked up a pencil and sketchpad for the first time in 20 years.
So how did your big break occur?
I left a couple of figurative paintings at a framers in Welshpool, they were spotted by a guy who was in the framers picking up a mirror. He liked what he saw and contacted me, little did I know he was a fine art collector and a big client of castle fine art. I went to his house a few days later with the framer and he bought all three paintings that I took to show him.
When we were on our way home the phone rang, it was the collector again, he asked if we could pop back as he wanted to introduce someone to me.
When we got back there was a lady who was the gallery director at castle fine art Birmingham, she loved my work and asked if she could show it to her boss, who was the owner of the Uk’s biggest publisher, Washington Green Fine Art. A few weeks later I went to Birmingham with my paintings unframed and in a black bin liner. I nervously chatted with the owner and within ten minutes he offered me a publishing deal and a five year contract.
I really owe the collector a drink (I did give him one of my sketches as a thank you).
How would you describe your work?
Very raw, I am not after perfection or realism. I paint from the heart, and I strive for emotion and feeling in my work. The often untouched and deliberately minimalist background ensures focus is on the subject.
What was your first piece of artwork?
It was a portrait of Elvis, my mum still has it hanging over her fireplace, its not exactly my best work.
Your new exhibition of brand new original works is called ‘If I Were The Devil’, where does the inspiration come from?
A couple of years ago I heard this inspiring audio clip on the internet, it was a broadcast by legendary ABC Radio commentator Paul Harvey. On April 3,1965 Paul could be heard ranting about how he saw American society in the future. What I couldn’t get over was this speech, made in 1965 remember, is a measure of today’s society, it’s as if it was written only yesterday. And this is what inspires my portrayal of the social evils that scar British society today. Through my work I’m telling a story of the greed and self absorption that exists in every aspect of life today.
For example, Avarice Egocentric was never intended to have religious connotations but they evolved over time whilst I was creating the painting. The crucifixion-like composition with outstretched arms holding a British flag. There’s the subtle twist on Apple’s branding, the tattoo showing two bites of the apple, signifies the greed of today’s conglomerates. The Latin inscription translates to ‘centre of their own attention’ Look closely and you can see the name on the credit card as ‘Mr Owen Monie’. The bottom right hand corner has the social media Twitter logo with the words ‘ACCOUNT CLOSED: 0 followers… interpret this as you will.
What does the term ‘having it all’ mean to you?
I think I have got it all to be honest. My wife Vonn seems happy my son is always happy and we have our lovely home. It’s great getting paid for something I love so much as it was once only a hobby.
What makes you happy?
Without doubt my son Levi, he was not dealt the best of cards, he has Cerebral Palsy, and learning difficulties, he has an incredible personality, he doesn’t see wrong in anybody and he doesn’t judge people, he finds good in everyone, old, young,disabled, race etc. I find him amazing, he has the ability to lift my mood after a bad day in an instant. He’s a very inspiring young man and he makes both Vonne and I very happy. Both Vonn and Levi are so supportive, Vonn has been incredible, she puts up with my artist temperament, and goes out of her way to help in anyway she can, I would not have achieved what I have so far without her. If there is an exhibition or an artist appearance both Vonn And Levi are always right there with me, I couldn’t be happier.
Describe a typical day in the life of Keith Maiden
There isn’t a typical day really, every day starts with a dog walk for Eddie our Boxer. I’m nearly always painting or sketching, I don’t have a set routine as such, but I do like to do a lot of research for my paintings.
What do you do to de-stress? And is it hard finding the time?
Again, I love to spend time with Levi, I always have quality time with him. He’s got some model steam trains in his bedroom that we play around with from time to time. We always have dinner as a family and I like to have a beer down the pub, Levi comes along for a Diet Coke but always asks, “are we going for a beer dad?”. Most Fridays we go down our local, have some food watch a live band and enjoy spending time together.
What is the one thing in your life you can’t live without?
Ah! I was only talking about this with some mates of mine recently. If you could only keep one thing, either music, television, an ipad, a phone or books, what would you keep? I could live without my phone and at a push I could live without television but I couldn’t imagine life without music. Music is so inspiring, it can brighten your day and it could be a useful resource tool if the other items are not available. I would keep music!
What are the biggest challenges of the job and what makes it all worth it?
The story telling element is my biggest challenge. If you look at the process of producing a piece of art, there’s the preparation which is the easier challenge, the painting which is a challenge to a degree because some pieces are harder than others, but the story telling is about getting all those things to work and transfer to an image so that people can relate too. And that is for me the difficult bit.
What are your working arrangements?
My purpose built studio (shed) is in my garden and is split into two halves, I do all my prepping on one side, which is things like working out the size of the boards, painting, sanding and then coating them with acrylic. Then the other side is where I draw and paint.
What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?
Because I like to paint about whats going on in the world, it’s the simple things that I like remember most as a child. A game of curbey, a game of spotlight or footy in the street. There was trouble in those days but I guess it was part of living on a council estate in Wolverhampton, we were used to it, so I guess a bit oblivious to it. I set an amateur football team up with a mate when I was 13 and it was a huge part of our lives for many years, I still drink today with some of the lads from the footy team, that’s almost 40 years.
Do you have any advice for new artists within the art world?
You know what I do! I would say never give up, my break didn’t happened for me until I was 50, develop your own style, believe in that style,and stick with it. There are a lot of incredible artists out there it is a very tough and very competitive profession.
What has been your best experience so far?
After I had been with Washington Green for about year they asked me along with a selection of internationally acclaimed artists if we wanted to paint Pelé’ for the Halcyon Gallery in London in celebration of his 75th Birthday and his lifetime of achievements. Other artists included Lorenzo Quinn, Mitch Griffiths, Andy Warhol, Nic Joly, Raphael Mazzucco and myself, I still can’t believe I was asked.
My vision was to strip back the public mask of Pelé, and reveal the genuine, humble guy beneath with a serious, honest and raw painting. I wanted the composition to translate how a bare footed unknown Brazilian went from humble beginnings to became the ‘king’ of world football. As a football fan I was in my element, it was such a surreal experience. I met Pelé’ and chatted for a while, he’s such a lovely bloke. I shook his hand and we both signed my original giving it that ultimate seal of approval. My piece was one of the first painting to be sold from the collection and it makes me a very proud man.
Over time has your artwork changed at all, if so how?
It’s always evolving over time, it’s changed from the last exhibition to this one and I assume it’ll change again. I’ll always keep that core look but I’m always looking for new ideas.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
When I first moved into our new home in Shrewsbury I needed to sharpen my chainsaw and one of the neighbours borrowed me a file. One day when I was working away I needed something to put some hair lines in the thick paint I was using so I grabbed this file, the pointed edge worked a treat. I recently had this particular file framed as a present for the guy who loves it and sees it has his little contribution to my art work. I now have a new file which I bought for a pound and I couldn’t manage without. But there’s also a little brush I use where I’ve cut all the bristles off so it’s really stubby, I use this as a blending brush and this too, works perfectly when I’m blending my colours into the graphite.
For further information please see: www.castlegalleries.com/events