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Art review: Richard Kenton Webb, Benjamin Rhodes Arts, Shoreditch

09 June 2023

Jonathan Evens views the fifth instalment of Richard Kenton Webb

photo Andy Green

Richard Kenton Webb, The Collective Unconscious, from the Albers series (2022)

Richard Kenton Webb, The Collective Unconscious, from the Albers series (2022)

AFTER their meeting in the second year of his MA study at the Royal College of Art in 1985, Richard Kenton Webb went on to have four exhibitions in central London with the gallery-owner Benjamin Rhodes. Now, 29 years later, comes Volume 5. The empathy and understanding of the pair is immediately apparent in this new show.

The exhibition has also provided an opportunity for Kenton Webb and the Revd Richard Davey to continue their ongoing discussions of “colour, landscapes, language, narratives, faith and the human figure” in the context of Kenton Webb’s work. Davey writes in the catalogue that what the drawings included here show him is what Kenton Webb’s work has always shown him, “a love song to the other”. This prompts the response that “one of the profoundest things an artist can do is to paint their Holy of Holies, and for me that is Love”, which is “an invisible presence and yet a force that has substance, just like light and colour”.

photo Andy GreenRichard Kenton Webb, Language (without words) (2022)

Throughout his career, Kenton Webb has been exploring the language of colour. He says that the “pursuit of colour” has become his “life’s work”: “As a painter my whole being, and my imagination are bound into the physical substance and qualities of the paint/pigment/colour. Through this, I believe we can glimpse eternal conversations about forms and the Other.” He makes his own paints and inks using pure pigments as, for the artist, “colour is a material, an actual substance.”

It is only when artists are “engaging with the physicality of paint” that “an alchemy takes place” and they “make equivalents for emotions and memories”, as colour “can also be a translation of what we feel”. Previously, he has explored red (creativity), orange (listening), and yellow (thought), as well as contrasts between light and dark, warm and cold. He is currently, while “looking forward to tackling blue and violet”, exploring green, which “is about wisdom and teaching a philosophy of painting”.

Most of the work shown here comes from his “Manifesto of Painting” series, which combines his green works with a series of drawings made on a residency at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, in 2022. Having tried for the past ten years to write a book about painting, Kenton Webb realised during this residency that he needed to express his ethos in his own natural language of paint, outside of words. The 72 drawings that he made there in 50 days are essentially a body of work about his teaching philosophy.

Ten drawings from the series are included in the show: a mix of Everyman figures seen “in a forest or on a sea shore looking out waiting attentively, listening out to hear the word of the Other”, and couples “living together, loving together, wondering together, demonstrating what a relationship is”.

In The Collective Unconscious, Kenton Webb’s Everyman figure looks intently at the surrounding forest while also listening intently to his internal stream of consciousness, thereby connecting the internal and external. The artist writes: “I have always considered drawing as a way of thinking. It is the way I make my thought-life visible. The way I give my unconscious life a voice. It is the way I enable the unconscious to become manifest and how I start to make some sense of the world in which we live.”

Much of this is summed up in a green triptych, Language (without words), in which art and music are shown as “languages that any human being around the world can access” as they are “separate from the confusion and division created by word-based languages”. Awe is experienced in the sweep of cliffs and sea overshadowing a house perched perilously by the cliff-edge (Manifesto of Painting — Awe), and the movement of the green sea is suggestive of conflict within the work of art (Manifesto of Painting — Conflict). Yet, ultimately, with The Great Other — an abstract landscape in bands of green — we are exploring creativity by looking at the mystery of the Creator.

“Richard Kenton Webb: Vol.5, Drawings from the Albers Series and Paintings from the ongoing Manifesto Series” is at Benjamin Rhodes Arts, 62 Old Nichol Street, London E2, until 24 June. Phone 07768 398428. benjaminrhodes.co.uk

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