Inspired by his talented older brother, his childhood was spent drawing the urban, mid-century surroundings of Birmingham, England. At the Birmingham and Manchester Colleges of Art he studied Art Education and after six years teaching in England accepted an offer to head the arts program at the Joan Miro Centro de Arte of the Baleares International School in Mallorca, Spain. For the next twenty years he would introduce the concepts of pictorial composition, color theory and draftsmanship to students ranging from 12 to 19 years of age. Many of these students would go on to achieve great success in the arts and architecture and remain close with their teacher to this day.
An integral part of Orton’s perspective training for his students was the study of the ellipse. He often used glass cylinders to demonstrate how the perceived ellipses generated by variations in the circle’s relationship to the eye-line could be used as a powerful tool in creating the appearance of a third dimension on a two dimensional surface. Later, after he had moved to America in 1999, he discovered a treasure trove of antique mason jars and bottles in the root cellar of his home and was captured by their intricate designs, raised lettering and inherent challenges of perspective as light passed through them to the eye. In conversation Ken often comes back around to his teacher’s instincts, as demonstrated below in a self-assessment of his work:
“The direction of my painting has always had an academic approach. I sought a subject that in itself seemed to have little value, hoping that the paint alone would attack the viewer’s senses and impart its own worth. I often think of the process of painting and indeed the finished artwork itself, in musical terms: rhythm, texture, coloration and tonal dynamics.
While I use my own carefully composed photographs as a reference and each piece usually has a precisely-painted, clear point of focus, I do not consider myself a photo-realist. I am equally interested in the intentionally blurred fields of color in my compositions, areas that allow me to practice a looser expressionistic technique, creating illusionary poems rather than an inventory of the seen objects and along the way forming—I believe—powerful and engaging works of art. I still get enormous pleasure from watching people move towards one of my canvases. At that moment when the image switches from being photographic to very human and painterly, there is often an uttered WOW!……I love them Wows.”
In addition to teaching, Orton has been a gallery owner, an exhibition curator and an expert witness for art authentication. He has traveled the world with his artwork, sold hundreds of paintings and had one man shows in Spain, France, England and the USA. He has won numerous Best of Show awards–most prominently New York’s Washington Square Painting Prize–and has had his work published on two continents. One of his proudest moments was taking his mother to see his show at a gallery inside Harrods of London before she passed.
The artist splits his time between the Catskill Mountains of New York and his winter home in Florida where he is happy being able to devote all his energies to painting, and on most weekends one can find him passionately rooting on his beloved hometown football club, Aston Villa.