Let’s talk Ken Griffen. Or, rather, let’s talk how Ken Griffen, fresh from a stint in Berlin, has single handedly cracked open the bizarre anxiety saturating our contemporary world. Let’s discuss how Griffen took to canvas for a year and with just watercolours and pencil, spilled this idea out onto paper, only to remind the world, “If you don’t have anxiety, then you’re going to get killed by the bear.”
Following the gallery opening of Griffen’s second collection, Runaway, we met for a coffee. Griffen is quiet. He has a way of talking as though he’s got more to say, but he’s keeping it to himself. I respect that. What he did give me was inspirational and truly eye opening.
Runaway explores the idea of anxiety in the contemporary world. This exhibition is the illustration of how we feel when we haven’t checked our phone in several hours. Each piece hits home differently. Some are darker than others, perhaps portraying the days when anxiety isn’t so much on the healthy side. The abstract lines of Griffen’s art are interrupted by the representation of commercial logos; the McDonald’s arches or the Bluetooth symbol. Griffen flirts with the idea of modern, abstract art.
The night before had seen Griffen standing calmly among a mixed crowd of Wellington ratbags, among older refined women wearing red lipstick and sipping champagne. Each group of people had their own opinions and ideas on the respective pieces. Griffen admits he spoke to a lot of strangers and while he likes each of them investing themselves differently into a piece. He’s not going to sell it to you, “If you like it, fucking buy it. If you don’t, don’t.” Griffen is in this for himself, it’s his outlet.
“An artist makes his worst work if he’s playing to the crowd.”
Roaring Fork, Griffen’s wildly successful commercial design company, has allowed him to a draw a line between that and his personal art. With this comes his undivided heart and soul in every piece. While I could have picked it up from his quiet demeanour, the way he sits into his seat, arms folded, how he put his laptop away the minute I arrived, Griffen reiterates to me that he’s not interested in following the well-worn path of traditional art. Plainly put, Griffen claims the traditional way just never made sense to him. In my opinion, his direction is blowing the traditional out of the water.
His fascination for people, the depth of understanding of emotions and his surroundings; it all accumulates to a respectable artist only concerned with having his morning coffee and making good, honest art. I only reluctantly come to realise I must leave - in all honesty I could have spent days talking to Ken, in attempt to understand how he came to be so at ease in himself and his work.
As I turned to go, I asked Griffen what his plans were. He shrugged towards the back of the café where Runaway was showing, a woman having just left, happy new owner of one of Griffen’s precious pieces, “I guess I’ll just sell art.”
Runaway is showing at Precinct 35. 35 Ghuznee Street WGT, 23rd June – 5th July.
Cover Photography by Maddie Chatterly