Jon Key in Turner's Margate, Today
Every time I visit Margate and see the water and feel the salty wind against my face, I relax. My jaw releases, my shoulders drop and I feel at home. It’s strange that I have fallen in love with this British beach town. If someone would have told me I would have ended up there, I might have been confused and laughed. I had never even heard of Margate before I started working with Carl Freedman Gallery… I didn’t really even love the UK! Margate is about an hour and a half train ride down east of London in Kent. This seaside town, over the decades, was visited by upper-class aristocracy in the 1800s by renowned artists like J.M.W. Turner. The Margate harbor curves around the North Sea, framing the most magical sunrises and sunsets. If I don't see the sunset every evening while being in Margate, I am upset! No wonder Tuner kept visiting and made so many paintings of this sky!
I think there is a surprising similarity between Margate and Bushwick. Originally home to working-class families, these two towns have been transformed (for good and for bad) into artists' havens and spaces to create work. Margate is thriving with artists, makers, and small businesses reshaping the literal face of the town. Parts of Margate, like in Old Town, feel historic, some parts feel like your typical tourist beach town, while other parts feel owned by artists, and other parts are families. The murals and art spaces around the city are worth coming for a visit. The seafood is delicious! But the community and people of Margate are why I keep coming back. I was so surprised on my first visits at how many amazing artists, authors, activists, and friends I would meet—and surprised there were so many Black folks!! I was surprised that so many young people over the past few years have relocated from big cities to move to this tiny town to make a life. Margate somehow straddles being a small town with worldwide connections and relationships.
Now, I have a space in the TKE studios established earlier this year by the artist Tracey Emin. I share it with my twin sibling, artist, and performer, Jarrett Key. The TKE space is home to studios for a number of artists, including my gallery sibling Lindsey Mendick and is also an 18-month residency for a dozen or so artists from around the world. It's nice to be in the mix with artists of all mediums working together in this bubble. For me it is exciting to walk around and see what people are doing, asking questions about what their challenges are or what's next for their practice. It's nice to vent about your own efforts and get inspired by the artists around you. Making work in Margate forces me to slow down and reconsider my priorities.
I’ve enjoyed going back to the basics in my studio in Margate and reminding myself why I love art and making. As I return to previously cherished materials, soft pastels, and watercolors. I scribble loose drawings of my friends who live there. I have been recording landscapes, birds at the beach, and flowers that reveal new shapes and patterns previously unnoticed. I have been experimenting with new colors and gestures for my work, but also in many ways, resisting the pressure to make precious objects. Just things for me. And I am so grateful. —Jon Key
Portrait by Doug Gillen // This interivew began with Radio Juxtapoz