ORGAN THING: Richard Kenton Webb at Benjamin Rhodes Arts. Painting as subversion? The great other? Paintings clever enough to not need to…

Richard Kenton Webb – The Great Other

Richard Kenton Webb – Vol. 5 – Drawings from the Albers Series and Paintings from the Ongoing Manifesto Series  at Benjamin Rhodes Arts, Shoreditch, East London – and on we go, the onward exploring of art, someone tried to tell me yesterday, a rather questionable curator actually, that gallery art was dead, that galleries were dead places. We’re told this is Richard’s fifth exhibition for Benjamin Rhodes since the two first met in 1985. The exhibition includes six recent paintings, made in Richard’s Plymouth studio, alongside ten drawings from his ongoing ‘Manifesto of Painting’ series, created during an Albers Residency last summer. We’re also told, that Richard’s ‘Manifesto of Painting’ series is an ongoing affirmation of the relevance of painting in the 21st century. He describes it as “an affirmation of what painting is and what painting means in a digital age”.

Benjamin Rhodes Arts is an intimate gallery, a properly informed old school art space, a welcoming space around the back of East London’s Redchurch street, you find it at the foot of what is a rather wonderful looking block of what feels like old council social housing on the edges of The Boundary Estate where once the Rookery was and where you now find the beauty of Arnold Circus. The last time we were here it was for that excellent Tricia Gillman exhibition, this Richard Kenton Webb show is just as rewarding as the show it followed. 


There’s essentially two things going on in here, two things very much in tune with each other, one is the drawings, the black and white very painterly drawings, the other is the rich rewarding greens of the paintings, greens that are almost blues, greens that unite the room and bring together the many conversations in such a, well I want to say in such an exciting way, but no, that isn’t quite right, the room is exciting, almost breath-taking but that isn’t quite right, it feels too calm for that, not excitement, soothing and at the same time demanding maybe? There’s something about (good) painting that demands of the viewer rather than just allows for passive viewing, it is a “wow”, it is exciting, the three paintings (is it a triptych or just three paintings side by side?), the three paintings in a line on the one wall, and then a scan to the left and Richard Kenton Webb’s take on that line where sky meets sea thing that anyone who has lived on coast always needs to get back to and just endlessly look at. Exciting isn’t quite the right word, the work is lost right now, there is a word, I’ll find it in a moment…

Is painting in this digital age a subversive act? it certainly feels like a fight, like we painters aren’t so much waving as drowning, Richard Kenton Webb argues it rather well when he says that “Painting is alive and relevant. In fact, in this digital age, you could argue that it’s quite a subversive activity. It’s a language outside of words and we’ve been doing it since the Stone Age. Painting is such an important way for us to express ourselves, physically, using materials”,

“In February Richard was a key panel speaker at ‘Drawing (A) Life’ – Debate, convened by Arts University Plymouth to debate the ways that drawing from the body has been lost from art education in the last thirty years and to appraise the continued need for the embodied physical experience of drawing. Senior academics and students from Arts University Plymouth were joined by representatives from Slade School of Fine Art, Baylor University (Texas), Totnes Foundation Course, Nottingham Trent University, Paris College of Art, and the Berlin Drawing Hub. The outcome of ‘Drawing (A) Life’ was unanimous agreement from all contributors that life drawing still holds a vital place within arts universities and art schools around the world. Consequently, academics at Arts University Plymouth have relaunched weekly staff-led life drawing sessions and student-led clothed life drawing sessions for students and staff within the university Drawing Lab”.  Really? Relaunched? You mean it hasn’t continued to be the norm?

There’s a synergy here, a synergy to these paintings, to these pieces gathered here in this room, a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The parts aren’t simple though, it surely is never that simple? Each piece demands something, ignites something, it isn’t excitement, the word is around here somewhere. And that’s the thing about painting, about the act of painting, the act of looking at a painting, if there were words then we wouldn’t need the paintings or to dance around the architecture in the first place. Is painting subversive? No, painting is natural, painting is a universal language, painting is a need, a painting, a good one at least, has life, it talks back, just you and it, just the two of you, there talking to each other, in a gallery, the most alive of places, the most vital, to not visit a gallery is to not be alive and when that gallery is alive with paintings then even more so (imagine thinking and arguing that a gallery is a dead place).


These paintings don’t shout, they don’t really excite, they really don’t need to, they don’t need to demand attention, they just exist in a beautiful state, in an inviting state, just there like the line where the sea meets the sky is just there, or a green tree is just there, like these paintings are just there, just so right. Can you imaging living where no new trees grew or no new paintings were made? Our paintings have talked for us for thousands of years, of course it isn’t subversive.  

These Richard Kenton Webb paintings are refreshing, they’re warm. evocative, they’re clever enough to not need to crash and bang, to make a big noise or to make demands of the viewer, they don’t need to be about excitement, there is a word, haven’t found it yet. Work that clear the clouds, the great other as it were. The Great Other, what a name for a painting! I’m really really enjoying being in here, I don’t want to have to find words (or that particular word). The art is here feels important, it is important but not so important that it doesn’t want to quietly talk to you, or as so often can happen, that it tells you it is more important than you are. These are works that welcome you in and let you enjoy what you choose to enjoy in them without needing to make any demands of you, without any pressure. Subversive? No, vital though, painting, and paintings and drawings like these, painting is something vital. Something never to be taken for granted, these are wonderful paintings, exciting.  Painting excites…  (sw)   

Richard Kenton WebbVol. 5 is at Benjamin Rhodes Arts, 62 Old Nichol Street, London E2 7HP. The show runs until 24th June 2023, the gallery is open Wed-Sat 12-6pm.  

Do please click on an image to enlarge and t osee the whole image or to run the clide show of photos that really do no justice to the show.

One thought on “ORGAN THING: Richard Kenton Webb at Benjamin Rhodes Arts. Painting as subversion? The great other? Paintings clever enough to not need to…

  1. Pingback: ORGAN PREVIEW: Two art things coming up in London we need to draw your attention to, Peter Kennard has an exhibition at a/political opening this Thursday evening, meanwhile Richard Kenton Webb is in conversation at Benjammin Rhodes Gallery next week…

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