"In essence, the leitmotif of his work is about power and the abuse of power as well as the resilience of ordinary working people to this abuse... It is an art of engagement – engagement for change." (John Green, from the Introduction to Ken Sprague – People’s Artist.)
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Remembering Ken Sprague: A radical artist
(All images courtesy of Ken Sprague)
A number of people have asked about the art work that features on this blog. It is the work of Ken Sprague who I had the great fortune to know in Australia and the UK during the late 1980's. Ken who died in 2004 aged 77, lived an inspiring life. The Ken Sprague Foundation was established by family, friends and colleagues to continue his legacy. An international political cartoon competition has also been established in his name. A collection of Ken's political cartoons can be found here.
Ken was one of the more interesting and inspiring people I have known. He was a larger than life figure who lived a life of deep social commitment and profound engagement with people. Ken was not just a great artist who left a remarkable public artistic record. He was equally committed to social and political justice and participated in radical social justice, anti-war and civil rights movements throughout his life.
During his life Ken was an award wining artist, journalist, cartoonist, print maker, political activist, teacher, trade unionist, parent, psycho-dramatist, psychotherapist, educator/trainer, writer, trade union organiser and filmmaker. Ken was also a war artist who used his artistic skills to document the horror of war and support campaigns for peace. During the Iraq-Iran war he accompanied an Iraqi regiment, where he documented the horror of war, including a battle that resulted in the death of 580 men in one day.
Ken carried a sketch book with him wherever he went and he used to sketch what he saw around him. His sketches were a way for him to engage with the world and the people around him, but his sketches were never "personal" reflections. They engaged people, made them feel and think and reflect on their circumstances and our shared humanity.
Ken was not someone who saw himself as just an artist. His artistic creations were an expression of his deep political commitment and his fight against injustice. He saw himself as a socialist artist and activist, whose work reflected the best traditions of British socialism. I remember talking with him about Paul Robeson, one of my idols, who Ken had known and worked with.
And Ken had a great wellspring of compassion, generosity and humanity that led him to embrace all people he knew and met. There was an immense grace and wisdom to Ken. Despite his remarkable life and success he talked little about himself and his achievements and exploits.
I first met Ken in 1987 when he was in Perth for a short period whilst training in psychodrama and sociodrama. In 1989 I was fortunate to spend time with Ken, his partner Marcia Karp and his children and family at Holwell, the training centre he and Marcia ran in North Devon, outside of the town of Barnstaple. During that time I trained under Ken's guidance and lived in his home for extended times, culminating in a two week period when I looked after the house and the centre whilst he and his family were overseas.
There are some people we meet who we know for just a short period in a long life who touch us deeply. Ken Sprague was one of those people.