The first question you have to ask someone who has made a video of himself sculpting with clay while disguised as a chimp is… why?
The answer I got from artist Keith Newlove was not a simple one but it’s an interesting tale.
The sculptor had secured himself a much-coveted place at Debut Contemporary in Notting Hill – a gallery which acts as a launch-pad for the careers of talented and ambitious artists.
The executive director at the gallery, Sophia Victoria, persuaded the Derby-based sculptor that as part of his exhibition it would be good to include a practical demonstration.
“Trouble was I was terrified at the thought of performing so I decided a video would be better. I then wanted to separate my own face from the project and chose the character of a chimp,” explained Keith over a coffee.
“There are two reasons for the chimp. Firstly, I am originally from Hartlepool – the town which famously hanged a monkey suspected of being a French spy in the 1800s and then more recently elected a man in a monkey costume as mayor – and secondly a chimp working with clay just seemed so primal.”
So Artmonkey72 was born and Keith called in an old friend, Andrew Doughty, of Rollingshutter Films to direct and shoot the video that was premiered at the London gallery last month alongside an exhibition of his intriguing work.
The 41-year-old artist moved to Derby after studying art and design at Cleveland College 20 years ago.
“A friend at college lived in Derby and he persuaded me it was the ‘alternative’ capital of England and I should move there. It wasn’t. But nonetheless it was better than Hartlepool at the time.”
For many years he didn’t do anything about his art and then six years ago he started drawing again, studied at South Nottingham College and then obtained a Fine Art degree at the University of Derby in 2012.
He says that it was Karina Goodman, who now has the Studio 61 Gallery at Holloway who gave him his first break and got him going.
“In 2007 the gallery was at the Coach House in Lea and she exhibited my textile nudes, which was quite brave of her.”
Back then he worked with textiles and machine embroidery. It was Denis O’Connor, one of his lecturers at Derby, who spotted his potential as a sculptor and encouraged him to try working with clay.
“My work has always been figurative. Even though I have moved from textiles to ceramics and sculpture I am still interested in the human form.”
Keith’s gallery of work consists of sculpted feet and hands in a predominantly monochromatic and subtle in colour and he finds inspiration from his own life and events that capture his attention.
One of his works – Aftermath – was inspired by a story he read in a newspaper about ten severed feet being found on the coast of Vancouver over a period of four years.
Getting his work into a London gallery this year has been his greatest achievement and he describes it as life changing.
“I applied for a place at the Debut Contemporary and then forgot all about it. When they contacted me there were just two places left and 3,000 applicants.
“At the interview another Derby artist David Booth was there and I was convinced he would get in instead of me but we took both places which was amazing.
“It’s just been unbelievable to be able to say that I am exhibiting in Notting Hill. It has been hard work but to have such a chance is tremendous.”
The work Keith has produced for the exhibition is based around sculpted hands and follows the hand as it escapes from one situation only to find itself with other obstacles to overcome.
On this occasion he has added in a new technique inspired by the primal nature of the Artmonkey project. When he has finished his sculpture he literally throws clay at it producing an unpredictable and chaotic result.
“Working with clay is instinctive and intuitive and allows us to fulfill our desire to create. I will be using what I have learnt on this project to develop my ideas further.”
You can see the video here http://bit.ly/1hKviUk.