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 Ken Ratner  (1953 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: Urban city view-genre photography, drawing, lecturer, curator

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Ken  Ratner
Permanent collection of the Delaware Art Museum
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by the artist, July 2013.

Ken Ratner was born in New York City in 1953 and lived in Texas and California before returning to the city in the mid-90s.  From an early age, he began to draw, focusing on portraits, but later street life and the urban poor would become his primary subject matter in both his drawing and photography.  He took evening sketch classes at the Art Students League in New York City in the 1980s, and would regularly study artwork and photographs in museums, galleries and art books.

Ken is a self-taught photographer whose principle field of interest is the urban city, particularly its derelict aspects that one often shuns, ignores, fails to notice or avoids.  Yet in these out of the way places, he discovers a rich humanity in keeping with his long-time interest in the work of the Ashcan School artists from the turn of the last century.  Like many of those artists (John Sloan, Jerome Myers), Ken is similarly inspired to go into the streets to seek out an inherent beauty in commonplace subjects.  He aspires to incorporate into his photographs some of the keen observations that these artists recorded.  Ken also draws inspiration from the urban scenes of photographers Berenice Abbott, Walter Rosenblum and Helen Levitt.

Of his work, Ratner said: “In photographing street scenes, black and white is my medium of choice.  The medium allows for clearly defined and dramatic effects, and is well suited for emphasizing light and shadow.  Balance is a critical aspect. One of the first things I do is to look at the four corners of a picture.  It’s vital to me that a picture be properly balanced.  I concentrate on capturing scenes of the lower class and their environment.  I find that these residents tend to reveal themselves in a more natural way than those living in affluent sections.  Above all, it is my hope that people viewing my photographs will find them interesting and humanistic.  I have tried to express this in my work.

In 2009, Ken was selected to exhibit his photographs with 6 other photographers at the Cahoon Museum of American Art. (“The Art of Photography/The Photographer’s Art,” June 9 – July 19, 2009).  Ken showed a number of his street scenes of New York, Los Angeles and Tijuana.

Ken enjoys spontaneity in drawing, and has studied the work of one of his favorite artists, Jerome Myers.  Like Myers, Ken has canvassed the streets of the Lower East Side in search of subject matter.  Portraiture is also of great interest to him. The Delaware Art Museum has in their permanent collection a portrait drawing that Ken did of Helen Farr Sloan, as well as one of his photographs.

Recently, the work of western artists Gary Ernest Smith, Tony Eubanks, Logan Hagege and Phil Epp, who, like the Ashcan artists before them, are also drawn to humanity, have become an additional source of inspiration to him.  Of primary importance, humanity in art, in whatever form it takes, remains Ken’s primary interest.

Museum Collections:
Delaware Art Museum

Museum Exhibitions:
Cahoon Museum of American Art, “The Art of Photography/The Photographer’s Art,” June 9 – July 19, 2009

Curatorial Experience:
2006   Educational Alliance, New York, NY: “Painting the Metropolis: Visions of Lower Manhattan by 19 Contemporary Artists”
2008   Flushing Town Hall (Smithsonian Affiliate), Flushing, NY: “Five Women Artists in New York” (lecture on the Ashcan School)
2010   Hope Horn Gallery, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA: “Ashcan Humanists: John Sloan and Jerome Myers" (lecture on 2/5/10) (Catalog produced with contributed essay).

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