IN THE STUDIO / War on the home front: There is more to the Gulf war artist John Keane than khaki and red.

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The Independent Culture
If you're looking for John Keane's studio, forget house numbers. Look instead for an abandoned factory on a busy London East End road and if, in the long grass that grows below its boarded-up windows, you find a burnt-out Mercedes and a smashed television set, you'll know you're there.

Violence pervades all Keane's work. However, there is much more to the painter than his status as official artist of the Gulf war might suggest. 'I'm not a war artist,' he explains. 'I'm interested in the human aspect of conflict. The way people treat each other. What interests me are the motivating ambitions for people today. My work is allegorical, metaphorical.'

Keane's last show was entitled 'The Struggle for the Control of the Television Station'. 'Television as a medium and an instrument of power has become the thing people want. They no longer go for the seat of government, they go for the TV station. Look at Russia.'

Keane accentuates the brutality of his subject with frenzied paintwork. 'I enjoy paint for its own sake and it suits my purpose. I'd like to obscure the image even more. Where there's room for the mind to work it's much more rewarding. I like the palpability of paint. I use a palette knife, a brush and my fingers and a lot of scraping. I've also started distressing the surface with sand and lumps of stone to see where that leads.'

Such experiments are evident in Keane's latest painting, on the wall behind him, in which a middle-class family at dinner ignore a burning building, a man in a cardboard box and a baby kicking a skull. 'It's an oblique reference to Bosnia. But it's really about our acceptance of a comfortable lifestyle while there's so much going on around us that's distressing. I want my work to be hard-hitting; my fear is of it lapsing into cliche.'

Keane targets our obsession with material possession, mocking and warning with a parade of stereos, computers and car- phones. The car and the television set are old favourites. 'Contemporary imagery is important to me. A burning car is a very powerful image. It encapsulates the two opposing forces of our time: technical expertise and the power to destroy. That really excites me.' And there it is, right outside his door.

John Keane. Born 1954. Camberwell School of Art. His work is included in the John Moore's Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool to 23 Jan 1994.

(Photograph omitted)