Artist Ken Howard OBE RA, a Create Patron and member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has been celebrated over his 60-year career for his paintings of London, Cornwall and Venice. Below, he talks about starting out as a painter and how art helps people see.
One of my earliest memories of being creative is when I was painting in north London on a railway siding. This old fellow came along and looked at my painting and he said “Sonny, I’ve walked across this railway yard for 30 years and this morning I can see that it’s beautiful.”
I think that’s the important thing in painting, to help people see. Painting is about three things: it’s about revelation, which means showing people something which they’ve seen every day but never really appreciated; it’s about celebration, which can be a celebration of a gasworks or a railway siding just as much as a beautiful woman or a flower; and it’s about communication, which is reaching out to people and speaking to people. I think it’s very important that painting is accessible to people and isn’t so difficult that they say “That’s all very well but I don’t really know what it’s about.”
“Without painting I would have been termed as someone who didn’t have opportunities in life” – Ken Howard
I remember I used to go into the City on Sundays in my old clapped-out car with paintings strapped on the roof and this man came along. He looked at my painting and he said, “I like your painting, but you’ve painted two churches and there’s only one there”. So I said, “What about the reflection of the church?” His eyes opened up and he said, “I’ve walked down this road for thirty years and I’ll never see it the same again”. Because I’d shown him a way of seeing it, and a marble wall with a reflection of the church in it made it look as if there were two churches.
One of the reasons I gave up teaching in ’73 was that it was moving much more towards people having academic qualifications and not being creative. We had youngsters who wanted to go to art school but couldn’t because they didn’t have the stipulated number of O-levels and A-levels. Which is nonsense really, because I remember I was in the staff room and we decided that as members of staff none of us would have got to art school under those conditions, when all that mattered really was whether you had talent for the arts. Without painting I think I would have been termed now as someone who didn’t have opportunities in life. Create gives everyone opportunities to be creative – adults as well as youngsters, people in prison, all ages.
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It was quite difficult to make a living as an artist to begin with – my dad worked in a factory and my parents didn’t have any money. People see art as a luxury, whereas I think art is a necessity. We’re here for a very short time, and I think in that short time anything that makes our time here richer is worthwhile. And art does make our time here richer.
“Create gives me the opportunity to reach out to people through the arts” – Ken Howard
When Create approached me to become a Patron I thought it was a very good idea, because it gave me the opportunity to reach out to people through the arts. You constantly meet people who say, “I would have loved to have painted, I saw a sunrise the other morning”, and I think if you react to things like that then you should do something about it, and the thing that you do about it is that you make art. So I think for people who Create works with, the actual act of making art is important. I think there’s a lot of talent out there which has never been dipped into.