Celebrating lifelong love of colour

Artist Kenneth Webb first visited Connemara in the 1950s and fell in love with its unique landscape. Now in his 90s, his new exhibition will open next week at the city’s Kenny Art Gallery, marking a 70-year relationship between the Kennys and the painter who is renowned for his use of colour. BERNIE Ní FHLATHARTA learns more.

Kenneth Webb sees colour all around him – even in the bogs of Connemara, which he has painted over and over again since he first arrived in Galway in the 1950s. With his paintbrush and canvas, he pays homage to the wildflowers found in the soft spongy ground, while others only see bogland.

Webb has been showing his work in Kennys’ Art Gallery for seven decades and in just over a week, the gallery will open an exhibition of his new paintings.

The 96-year-old Englishman, who fell in love with everything about Connemara on his first visit, is still working on the paintings so there isn’t even a title on the show. This shows the unique trust between him and Tom Kenny of the gallery, who has known the artist for more than 70 years.

In fact, Tom was only a child when the then young, sprightly Kenneth Webb walked into Des and Maureen Kennys’ bookshop on the city’s High Street. Tom may not remember that moment but he appreciates the impact it had on the shop and indeed on his own future.

Kenneth, then Head of the School of Painting in the Ulster College of Art in Belfast, was visiting Galway, taking photographs and making sketches.

He was looking down High Street, with its then drab facades when his eye caught a splash of colour outside one premises.

That was Kennys Bookshop and the colourful item was a handwoven rug, hanging outside. The curious Kenneth entered to find out more. By the end of the visit he had left a few paintings, which he’d had in the boot of his car, and which were duly displayed in Kennys’. These sold so well that he returned regularly with more.

The Kennys, who had by then become friends with Kenneth, hosted his first Irish exhibition in 1963 – he had previously exhibited in England.

Five years later, the Kennys decided to extend into their family home next door to claim its living room as a dedicated art gallery. The rest is history.

Pictured: Kenneth Webb painted outside in the landscape for most of his life, as these archive photos show. Now aged 96, he continues to produce new work but ill health means he can no longer work outside.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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