Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Artwar (1994)

Courtesy of Jeff Keen

Main image of Artwar (1994)
Video, colour, 5 mins
DirectorJeff Keen
Production CompanyArts Council of Great Britain
 Channel Four

Guns fire and explosions fill the sky while Jeff Keen aggressively paints on his wall in his house and outside near trees. He also performs with paper cut-outs and toy robots walk and move. There is much art production that moves between creation and destruction.

Show full synopsis

Commissioned and screened by Channel 4 in 1994, Artwar is considered by Jeff Keen to be one of the culminating titles of all his work. This was a striking period in Keen's work, demonstrating his irrepressible drive to create. He was in his seventies at the time, but felt no doubts about working with a new medium.

Damian Toal worked on the project as editor, as he did on most, if not all, of Keen's videos in the early 1990s. Keen and Toal delivered two versions of the project to Channel 4: one in sections with different intertitles; the other running straight through without interruption. Keen hoped that they could present the small sections unannounced around other broadcasts, something that Channel 4 refused. He even went as far as to make the sections the same length as the weather forecasts of the time.

As its title suggests, the violence in Artwar is more pronounced than in Keen's earlier work, but the wit, humour and references remain. One section, 'Draw He Said', is built on a punning reference to drawing as an art and the action of drawing a gun - guns and cowboys have been referenced by Keen from as early as 1960. Wail from that year features a short animation of blasting cowboys.

Artwar was made when the so-called YBAs, a new generation of Young British Artists, centred around Damien Hirst, were developing their reputations and in some instances making works on video. The film's playfulness and references to popular culture, as well as its darkness, make some connection with the YBAs' work, but culturally it comes from a different position. Keen's work is more direct and while it contains much humour cannot be said to be ironic. His articulations come not from being brought up in a culture that is obsessed with war and violence but from experiencing these things first hand. This is why Artwar is so important to him. Keen is also uncertain about the contemporary art world and his work has found little acceptance within it. Despite the fact that he draws and paints, his work has almost always been screened in the context of experimental film.

Keen has made numerous other versions and reworkings of Artwar, using video and super 8.

William Fowler

*This film is included in the BFI DVD and Blu-ray compilations GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete video (5:16)
Keen, Jeff (1923-2012)