A life remembered in paint by Norfolk artist Danny Keen
PUBLISHED: 09:01 22 October 2012
On June 22 1948, former troopship the Empire Windrush docked in the port of Tilbury, Essex with nearly 500 passengers — mostly from Jamaica — on board.
The arrival marked the beginning of large-scale West Indian immigration to Britain, changing the country’s social landscape forever.
Four years later, Norfolk-based artist Danny Keen arrived in Southampton to join his mother, who had journeyed to the UK alone a year earlier to raise the funds to bring her family to Britain and a new life.
“I don’t remember a great deal about the journey, other than that I had my first ever sausage!” Danny laughed, “and I also remember that it felt very cold in Britain, which was a bit of a shock after the heat of Jamaica.”
Danny is staging a special exhibition of his work, including his Portrait of a Diaspora series which celebrates people with similar Caribbean roots and a series of jazz concerts, for Black History Month. His show, at the Anteros Arts Foundation in Fye Bridge Street in Norwich, also features his psychedelic paintings from his time spent studying at the Central School of Art in London in the 1960s and work inspired by the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
After a career in catering, including a stint as owner of the famous The Alibi bar in Norwich, Danny picked up his paintbrush again several years ago and began his portrait series.
He has captured beautiful, almost photographic images of people such as Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in Iraq and Tim Campbell, who won The Apprentice TV show in 2005 and was made an MBE for services to enterprise culture in addition to Big Issue founder John Bird and rapper Jon Chase.
Other images in the exhibition include those of Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, Mario and Megan Van Peebles, Jack Johnson and his friend Dr Stephan Reno.
The exhibition also includes some of his psychedelic work form the 1960s and contemporary abstraction.
Some of his abstract and politically-inspire paintings are being featured for the first time after spending the last four decades in a cupboard!
Danny, who lives in Gresham and is a jazz and blues pianist, will use the exhibition as a backdrop for a series of jazz concerts which will take place every Friday throughout Black History Month.
He has lived in Norfolk since 1988 and said that he had never experienced any racism in the county, only acceptance and “wonderful people”.
“When I first came to London, I loved playing in on the old bomb sites because they were like playgrounds and in the summer were filled with wildflowers which were beautiful,” he said.
“My parents were very entrepreneurial people who came to this country with no social services, no council flat for them, just lots of jobs and a desire to make something of their lives.
“There was racism in London, but never in Norfolk. I love this county, its home and I’ve never been made to feel that I’m an outsider. Actually, Norfolk was the first place in the UK to experience black music when the black airmen came here from America, so it’s always been a groovy place!”
■ Danny Keen, Anteros Gallery, Fye Bridge Street, Norwich, until November 3, Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, free admission, 01603 766129, www.anteros.co.uk
■ The jazz concerts are on Friday nights, tickets £12, with Sojourn in Rhythm and Calypso King James tonight and a Black History Month All Star Jam Session on October 26.