We are apt to forget (well, I am anyway,) that an illustrator’s published work is often but the tip of an enormous iceberg, and this was particularly so in Charles Keeping’s case.
Over the last few years his vast output has been carefully sorted, selected and organised by his widow, Renate. This has now been put on exhibition throughout several rooms of the large Keeping home in Shortlands, Kent. For example, one room, Charles’s actual workroom, is given over to two of his most dominant preoccupations: the theme of horses – he was devoted to horses – and the theme of unusual or unearthly creatures, for which he also had a passion. These latter can certainly evoke strong reactions, and I found myself experiencing a slight shudder every now and then! (It was a shudder with a thrill though.) The drawings and paintings are arranged chronologically, and the artist’s development and way of working over several decades is there to see. This is an utterly fascinating experience.
Another room has the most amazing frieze which has been constructed with painstaking skill by Renate to celebrate the life that she and Charles shared together. You could spend hours in this room, and the work is not finished yet. Not only is Renate quite indefatigable in her promotion of her husband’s reputation, she is herself an artist of distinction. Some of her own striking work, including her wonderful `soft’ sculpture, is set out in another room in the house.
The Keeping Gallery is a developing enterprise that first opened its doors last year. Parties of children have visited the Gallery and on these occasions Renate gives a guided tour and talks about Charles’s work, and also her own. The general theme of each visit is `There are many ways of telling a story’ and in each room the children can find different approaches to storytelling, both verbal and visual. The visit concludes with a workshop session in which all the children participate. There are refreshments too!
Other, more advanced students of Art and Design can have conducted tours or attend the seminars which Renate arranges from time to time. Here artists, working in various disciplines, discuss and demonstrate their work, and answer questions. But even if you are, like me, simply an admirer of Charles Keeping’s work, you’ll be very welcome.
Visitors have recorded their reactions: ‘Riveting,’ said one. ‘I’m lost for words – it’s just amazing,’ wrote another. Other visitors used words like ‘fabulous’, ‘inspiring’, ‘awesome’. Personally, I found The Keeping Gallery quite enthralling and Renate a very frank and interesting raconteur.
It’s a place that deserves to be much better known and to have many more visitors.
Details of school visits, workshops, seminars, admission charges and a map are available from:
Renate Keeping The Keeping Gallery 16 Church Road Shortlands Kent BR2 OHP (tel: 081460 7679)
It’s advisable to telephone before making a visit. Church Road is a wide road with ample space for parking cars. Shortlands Station, with trains from Victoria and Blackfriars (25 minutes), is a short distance away.
Jeff Hynds is a major figure in the movement to promote more enlightened approaches to the development of reading. Since retiring, some years ago, from Thames Polytechnic in South London, he’s been a freelance lecturer and is much in demand for in-service work with teachers all over Britain.