Ken Grimes was born in New York City and grew up in Cheshire, Connecticut. In his early twenties he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which forced him to withdraw from college during his sophomore year. Between 1971 and 1978 he was hospitalized five times. Toward the end of the Vietnam War, Grimes’s father sold his business, which manufactured parts for rifles, trigger guards, grenade launchers, and other weapons, and built a four-court tennis center, partly to give his son something fun and stress-free to do. “I think my father felt kind of responsible for my illness, so in a way he wanted to get involved,” Grimes explained.
The Cheshire tennis center would eventually become one of the main motifs in Grimes’s art. One day after a hospital release in 1971, Grimes helped out at a public state lottery drawing that his father hosted at the center to attract business. Following an impulse that he has never been able to explain, Grimes walked among the people gathered, trying to influence the outcome in his favor by envisioning stacks of bills and bags of money. A week after the lottery drawing, Grimes received a letter from a high school friend with a newspaper clipping tucked inside. The news story was about a sixty-two-year-old man named Ken Grimes in Cheshire, England, who won a large soccer pool by calling seven straight ties at 1.5 million-to-one odds. Grimes still keeps the timeworn flyer that was handed out to promote the public drawing and another short newspaper article about the incident, which opens, “What’s in a name? A new house, car, an early retirement and a $1,332,988 payoff on a soccer pool, perhaps, if your name happens to be Ken Grimes of Cheshire. Cheshire, England, that is.” Since then, Grimes has observed a string of “synchronicities” in books involving his name and Cheshire as a word or a location, which he has always suspected were clues to an alien signal.
Grimes has painted in only black and white for more than thirty years. This constraint is meant to give the message of his paintings the force of truth against deceit. His paintings oscillate between whimsical and stern but are often both. Never-ending variations on the conceptual theme of extraterrestrial intelligence, they are a window to a world where aliens, flying saucers, UFOs, crop circles, radio telescopes, and interstellar signals are an essential part of reality. Grimes’s personal mythology, the substance of his artwork, is a pastiche of his autobiography, outer space imagery, and references handpicked from pop culture, science fiction, and astronomy. Text always appears in his paintings—an allusion to the explanatory graphic format of science books. In some of his works all figuration has been dropped in favor of text messages. Through his art, Grimes hopes to prompt others to think about the existence of aliens and the importance of contacting them. In his most recent works on paper, originally conceived as preliminary works for larger compositions but subsequently refined as finished, independent works, Grimes interlaces excerpts from his favorite writers, Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, with his own narrative voice, giving a sense of the continual thought process happening inside his mind.
In the 1998 traveling exhibition Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century organized by the American Folk Art Museum Grimes was one of the four extant artists among the thirty--one included.His work is in the permanent collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the American Folk Art Museum. In 2018 Grimes’s work was selected as one of the exhibitions in a six-part yearly series titled “Field Station” at Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.