“About the first artistic influence or ability was in a prekindergarten. There was a chest or big box of blocks. I would dump all the blocks on the floor and start building forts and buildings. A couple of other kids would knock them apart. I would just start over building.”
— Ken Grime’s notebook —
“White is truth and black is the absence of truth,” I read in a journal describing the predominant colors in Ken Grimes’s work. His paintings consist largely of black backgrounds on white canvases and often depict visions of extraterrestrial life. “I look at space. I look up in the sky and I see black. Black is the absence of White. I decide to use that as a way of exploring and working to explain my art, a way to visualize something that is not of this planet.”
Ken is fascinated by coincidence. He revels in paranormal themes of outer space and UFO conspiracy theories and believes fervently that humanity ought to determine “who we are on the spaceship, and how this spaceship looks in comparison with other spaceships in the galaxy.” He finds truth in trying to understand our place in the world in relation with others.
When I got to hold Ken’s journal in my hand—an underwhelming 1-Subject college-ruled spiral notebook reminiscent of my elementary and junior high years in public school—I didn’t know what to expect. ‘Do bookstores even sell these anymore?’ I thought skeptically. What I discovered was perspective—the unique outlook of the other, mysterious, illuminating, and playfully human, reveling in the delight of another’s mind and the compunction of a heart connected.
Born in New York City on July 16, 1947, Ken recalls going to the movies on a date as his earliest encounter with the idea of the paranormal. They were young adolescents, seated side-by-side watching a science-fiction thriller called The Space Brain. The film centers around a group of children (ages 12–14) who stumble upon a pulsing brain lying on a beach. They carry the brain to a cave by the water, without realizing its arcane ability to control the minds of children it comes in contact with. The children break into a military base to destroy a nuclear missile as ‘the alien brain grows to the size of a small car,’ Ken recalls. The last scene of the film portrays parents and military personnel gathered around the kids on the beach where the alien brain floats out of the cave. It rises on a tractor beam and disappears into a waiting UFO that subsequently vanishes into the sky. “Other nuclear countries suffer the same fate at the hands of aliens,” Ken offers.
“I paint because I’m actually interested in sharing my message or my experience with a much larger audience.” Ken prefers painting over writing because he believes its affects to be more direct than processing words on a page. Perusing Ken’s journal is like taking the Alice & Wonderland ride at Disneyland. His words spin like revolving teacups, gliding freely, simultaneously, and stopping abruptly, making it difficult to follow at times. Some stories begin and end, while others begin without ending.
Ken prefers technologically less advanced means of communication, such as snail mail rather than email. He favors letter writing over face-to-face interviews, which has been an illuminating fact in my exploration of his story. There is something refreshing about holding fast to one’s convictions and trying to glean learning from a different point of view.
Ken’s paintings and drawings are on display at the Ricco-Maresca Gallery located in New York City. He attributes much of his inspiration to Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, Maxim Gorky and Hank De Koning. Other influences include John Kensett’s Hudson River scenes, Romare Bearden’s collages, and a few sculptures by Alexander Calder.
What is most refreshing about Ken and his large body of work around extraterrestrial life over the last 25 years is precisely his capacity to create focus around nonlinear, associative thinking. His obsession with extraterrestrial life has created a unique lens for better understanding himself through his artwork. His life is all the richer as he continues to hone his medium into better understanding. “[At] present I want to work towards a show at Ricco-Maresca on Future Shock using electronic circuitry, binary numbers and images like The Scream and one to five words like Burn out Future Shock.”
The last line etched in Ken’s journal identifies the proliferation of choice as paralyzing. “Too many choices are overwhelming,” he writes. Could freedom and a constant striving for truth be better found in a practice of careful restriction?
“For me it is easier to find my niche to be original, to be outrageous. I can hide under the label of schizophrenia without fear of ridicule like a tenured Professor would have to worry about. Look at what happened to John Mack who was a Harvard Psychiatrist who won a Pulitzer Prize. After he published a book on alien abductions, he almost lost his teaching job at Harvard. Researchers are afraid of the occult because it has a history filled with charlatans and zealots. With my label I don’t have to worry about ridicule.”
Ken and his artwork symbolize much more than mere talent and hard work. It also represents a fearlessness and resilience. The story he recounts at the opening of his notebook on building blocks in prekindergarten shows us that behind every artist is a new form of creative destruction—a never-ending issuance of building and rebuilding, and a joy derived from its very negotiation, its movement. Ken reminds us in his artistic pursuit of “civilizations of another galaxy” that life and labor can be broken down into a series of manageable experiments, where we can build one block at a time in spite of setbacks. It’s simply about carrying a different perspective.
Frank Maresca, Owner of the Maresca Gallery, has represented Ken Grimes and his artwork for nearly 25 years. When asked to share thoughts on Grimes, Maresca sums it up succinctly, “Ken brings awareness to what might exist, the possibility of us.”