Bruce Alexander Killeen was a painter and a poet, born in 1926 in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands (Warwickshire at the time), the son of Irene, née Evans and Major Charles Killeen. Killeen went to the local schools, then studied English Literature at Oxford but never trained as an artist. “Training”, he used to say, “is for racehorses.”
In 1957 he married the ceramist Angela Fry. They had three children Finella, Zita and Piers. In the 1960s Bruce was Arts Correspondent for the Guardian. In the 1950s, 60s, he taught at Cheltenham College and King’s Bruton School in Somerset, where he was Head of the Arts Department. In the mid-1980s he taught part-time at the Royal Academy Schools, London, teaching History of Art. Finally Killeen taught at Colchester School of Art, where he was Head of the Arts Department.
Killeen exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions, London, Edinburgh and many other venues (see below), including at The Minories, Colchester. He had an especially close connection with the Minories when Michael Chase (1915-2001) was curator of the Gallery.
In 1997 his wife Angela died and Killeen later married Julia Wroughton (1934-2010), a painter and poet. Both then lived at Inniemore Lodge, on the Isle of Mull, in the Hebrides, where Julia had founded the Inniemore School of Painting in 1967. The school was very successful (1), attracting many students from over the world. There they taught, painted and wrote poetry for eleven years. Killeen spent his final years in Gascony (2), where he published his last books of poetry and drawings. He died there on August 14 2014. He was a member of Colchester Art Society for a number of years.
Form and structure were important to Killeen in both his painting and poetry. Killeen frequently painted on a large scale, usually in oil. His work, as seen here, could be described as a response to American Abstract Expressionism developed by American painters such as Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) in the 1940s and 50s, a style which sought through apparently simple compositions with strong forms to produce a contemplative response in the viewer. Killeen created simplified compositions with large flat areas of a single resonant colour, here rust and viridian green, a blue-green pigment (emerald green), created in Paris in 1859 and favoured by Van Gogh and Camille Pissarro. Also like Rothko, Bruce reduced his titles to a few words, essentially to colours. Here “Viridian and Rust” like Rothko’s Red on Maroon(1959), for example.
Killeen also liked vermillion and amber colours, as well as chrome yellow, titanium white and cobalt blue. These were his favourite colours. He also used collage and practiced photography and made several films for the Arts Council.
Chappel Galleries, Colchester, Colchester Art Society Fifty Years Anniversary, 1996
The Minories, Colchester, 1970 (1 Jan- 21 Feb); 1975
The British Institute, London
Bruton Street Gallery, London
The Drian Galleries, London
The Artists’ International Association, London
The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
Cheltenham Art Gallery, Cheltenham
Edinburgh Galleries, Scotland
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 696
KILLEEN, Bruce (author) and WROUGHTON, Julia (illustrator), Evocations: Wood Engravings and Poems, Strathmore Publishing Ltd, 2007
KILLEEN, Bruce (author) and WROUGHTON, Julia (illustrator), Digressions: Drawings & Poems: Wood, Strathmore Publishing Ltd, 2008
KILLEEN, Bruce (author), Collusions, Strathmore Publishing Ltd, 2010
Mc CARTHY, Patricia (author) and KILLEEN, Bruce (illustrator), Rodin’s Shadow, Clutag Press, 2012
KILLEEN, Bruce (author), The Planner’s Bench, Strathmore Publishing Ltd, 2014
(1) It is now closed.
(2) His son, Piers, still partly lives in the area, at Sainte Mère, where he organises Sainte-Mère Festival, a week of chamber music at his château every summer: www.saintemerefestival.net