At the ripe old age of 76, Swindon-born, mural painting legend, Ken White at last has a a solo exhibition. Called Railways and Landscapes, the exhibition is on at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery until the 30th November 2019.
I’m not the best photographer and I took these in a bit of a rush so these are not the best. Better by far to go and see them for yourself. It is a gorgeous exhibition.
A Mural Man
Ken is of course well-known as a muralist – both here in Swindon, in the UK and abroad. During his years as Richard Branson’s personal artist, Ken travelled the world painting airport lounges, record shops, car parks restaurants and more. Of his Swindon murals only one now remains – The Golden Lion mural. You can read more about that in both the new book and also in my first volume, Secret Swindon.
To return to the Advertiser article:
Sophie Cummings, curator at the Swindon museum, said: “I think the exhibition is a real celebration of Ken’s art and the response we’ve had to it from visitors already just shows in what high regard the people of Swindon hold him.”
I, like many other people I daresay, had formed the impression that the only piece of Ken’s Swindon work, still in existence, isthe Golden Lion mural.
So imagine my surprise when, just t’other day, a tweet appeared on my Twitterfeed from the friends of Lydiard Park with an image of a painting of Lydiard House, that Ken did in 2005. I rather get the impression it’s been in storage or something. Certainly, I’ve been in that house more than a few times and never seen it. Even now it’s leaning against the wall in a tucked away corner of the rooms that are open.
Which rather begs the question Lydiard House management, WHY in God’s name do you not have this artwork on permanent display and shout it from the room tops?With Ken’s story due to be published soon you’re missing one heck of a marketing opportunity. #justsaying
Ken created the triptych as a joint project between Ken and Intel. Some Intel staff did some of the painting. The idea of the artwork was, according to Ken, for children to find things in the painting around the house.
Indeed, hidden in the bottom right hand corner is the image of a very famous Swindon figure.
What else is there to see at Lydiard House?
Well. Quite rather a lot actually. The member of staff on duty, Adrian Smith, gave me a bit of a tour explaining some of the paintings etc. He’s really very knowledgeable – as you’d expect – and I must seek him out again and pay more attention. Why? Because, TBH, I was too stunned about the Ken White triptych to concentrate fully. That and thinking, as Adrian spoke, that small in number as the available rooms at Lydiard might be – there’s a heck of a lot of stuff that is simply not shouted about enough. WHY is Swindon so bad at this?
Aside from that, it’s an opportunity to share a few photographs of Ken’s work. In my recently published book, Secret Swindon, I made a big effort to convey that Swindon’s cultural and creative present is as rich as its cultural and creative past. Many people/entities/artists contribute to Swindon’s varied cultural landscape as the recent Swindon Open Studios even will testify. And one of whom is Swindon born Ken.
‘Ken White: Painter not artist
That’s his description of himself not mine. He’s emphatic on the point. Yet, however you describe him his talent is indisputable.
A born Swindonian, Ken had the great good fortune to get what you’d call ‘a big break’. First though, like so many young men in Swindon, at the tender age of fifteen saw him enter the Works (the 3rdgeneration of his family to go ‘inside’) as a rivet-hotter. Escaping that role, he began his artistic career with sign-writing and stenciling numbers on carriages in the Works. During this period Ken went to evening classes at Swindon Art College to study ‘O’ and A ‘Level art with the intention of becoming a full-time artist … ‘For the rest – buy the book! 😉
Ken’s portfolio is a wonder to behold – the just-passed Open Studios is the ideal time to view it.
When researching for Secret Swindon I visited Ken and spent ages poring over his output from over the years. His collection of posters designed for Swindon events back in the day are an exhibition in themselves – never mind the rest. Here’s a small few that didn’t get used in Secret Swindon:
Ken White’s famed Red Lady emblem for Virgin Atlantic
Poster for the unveiling of Carleton Attwood’s ‘The Watchers’ at Toothill village centre
I do like share a bit of good news on this blog listeners. And this is certainly that.
Now if it were left to me I’d have a place in Swindon’s art collection for dozens of Swindon artists. But until that’s possible it’s great that, in addition to works by the fabulous Ken White, both Creative Wiltshire and Swindon Borough Council have acquired works by David Bent. Because they both absolutely deserve to be there. So hurrah!
Swindon Borough Council are delighted to announce their most recent acquisitions to the Collections via the Creative Wiltshire project
‘These new works include a stunning landscape painting and prints by local artist David Bent. The painting, Beach House West of Looe, from David’s Landscape Geometry series will go on display from 19 July until 18 November as part of ‘The Lie of the Land exhibition’, which explores Modern British Landscapes from the Swindon Collection. This exhibition will also feature artists such as Richard Long, Mary Fedden, Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell.
The Museum and Art Gallery has also obtained two prints from his innovative Aerobot photo collage collection which were first exhibited at the nearby Royal International Air Tattoo. David is credited as leading a new movement in modern aviation art.
This work has been purchased by the Creative Wiltshire project, which aims to acquire works by creative people across Swindon and Wiltshire.
The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and also recently secured a work by Swindon artist Ken White for the Swindon Collection as well as ceramics by Sasha Wardell, Trevor Chaplin and Patricia Volk, paintings by David Rolt, and prints by Howard Hodgkin and Joe Tilson.
Creative Wiltshire has also purchased David’s work (including books, a box set of Movement 2000 and prints) for the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and said “We are delighted that Swindon has acquired these wonderful works by David Bent. David is a talented and popular artist who has such a strong connection with Swindon and the surrounding area. It has been a pleasure working with David to select the works for Swindon and for the History centre and we feel they provide a fitting tribute to David’s long career. We hope visitors will enjoy discovering his work in forthcoming exhibitions.”
David said: “I am proud to have my work represented in the prestigious Swindon collection, sitting alongside works created by a number of great artists that have inspired and influenced me. I am equally pleased that the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre have chosen to acquire a number of pieces.”
For further information please contact Nicki Western, Marketing Manager, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, 01793 466560 or firstname.lastname@example.org‘
David Bent David Bent lives and works in Swindon. His long career has taken him all over the world. Born in Dover, he has travelled extensively. His art shows the influences of the places he has visited, as well as his fascination with current affairs. In recent years he has been strongly associated with the Red Arrows, who have inspired a number of paintings within his Art of Flight series. David was recently awarded the rare distinction of Honorary Companionship of the Royal Aeronautical Society in tribute to his work. He is the first artist in 30 years to be awarded this.
Question: The Aerobots series is a departure for you. What was your inspiration?
David Bent: I am inspired and led to a certain extent by my general interest in science and technology, but nature and the human condition are also big influences on me. As a practicing artist, I always aim to infuse my work with the power of personal observation, skill and insights.
For me the relationship between Art, Science and Mathematics can be described as a drawn circle with a small gap at the end. Art is at one end of the open circle and science at the other. They are very close if you are prepared to jump the gap, if not you have to travel all the way around the circle and they become a long way apart. I like to jump the gap.’
Creative Wiltshire Creative Wiltshire is a five year project which started in 2015 and aims to acquire work by creative people from Swindon and Wiltshire to fill significant gaps in the collections across Wiltshire.
Wiltshire Local Studies, based at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, received £178,000 HLF Collecting Cultures grant towards the five year project totalling £213,550 and materials are being acquired by accredited museums in the county of Wiltshire and Borough of Swindon, including Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and the Salisbury Museum.
I am the mural man, I come from far away and I can paint – yes I can paint. What can you paint – I can paint murals!
‘It’s a small world’. A cliché? Yup. But true. And listeners it doesn’t get much truer than this!
In the early days of this blog I devised a list of things to celebrate about Swindon. And on that list I placed Ken White. A son of Swindon, Ken has made his mark on the world literally and figuratively with his artistic talent.
I’m fortunate in recent years to have got to know David, and his fabulous wife Carole, very well. And it was on a recent visit to David’s studio – Swindon Open Studios maybe? – anyway – that I learned that he too had been a mural painter back in the day.
In a wonderful bit of symmetry that life, the universe and everything (42) is full of it turns out there was a time when, unknown and unbeknownst to each other, they were painting murals in London with only a street or two between them. David was working as a youth worker specialising in art project work and Ken was working on one of his famous commissions for Richard Branson – he of the Virgin empire. As Carole herself said, it’s not impossible that they drank in the same pubs.
And now here they are, living in the same town, still painting. Though no muriels sadly. That said – if anyone is offering I’ve got a garden wall crying out…
The image below shows an article in a 1979 issue of The Telegraph featuring both David Bent and Ken White painting their murals in London at the same time. Like I said – it’s a small world. Albeit with big murals. And pots and pots of pots of paint.
It’s funny how ‘things’ happen really. How at-first-glance-unrelated incidents become related…
Last night I had a lodger from Air BnB – just for the night – visiting Swindon for the first time. He was a very charming Syrian chap who’s been in England for 10 years or so. He lives and works in London as a university lecturer and was full of nothing but affection and gratitude to our country for the opportunities it’s afforded him. I say this as background but I do think it’s kinda relevant.
Because he then went on to say that, what little bit of Swindon he’d seen, he’d really liked. He commented that everyone he spoke to was lovely – not like in London. He liked where I lived (West Swindon), he went to Lydiard Park and loved that. He even thought the West Swindon Centre was nice. Which leads me to the next connection…
Today I went to the autumn fayre at the gorgeous Christ Church where I happened to pick up a copy of Swindon Heritage’s autumn magazine. On getting home I picked up the magazine and it fell open on an article called ‘Meet the man with the Plan’ – an interview between Graham Carter and Hadrian Ellery-Van Dekker – a name on a par in the awesomeness stakes with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Which is probably rather fitting if you think about it.
Anyroad up – Mr HVD ( I thought about writing Mr VD and swiftly thought again! #awks) is the director of the new museum and art gallery. In the course of the article Mr HVD is quoted as saying:
‘There is a great cultural scene here in Swindon, but I have noticed a tendency in people who live here to put the boot in when they talk about the town. It seems to be a default setting. People categorise by what it isn’t rather than what it is. They tell me it isn’t Bath, and it isn’t Oxford and it isn’t Reading. But it has a hell of a lot to recommend it, so I think it is time to start thinking about what it has got going for it, not what they think is missing.’
And oh boy is he right!. They do. And I’m so, so tired of it. So I say: Thank. Bloody. God.
Mr HVD can I shake you by the hand? Yes! Yes! Yes! That’s EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to say for the past 3 LONG years of bashing away at this bloody blog. So it’s VERY nice to hear it from someone else. Vindication is mine!
Swindon is NOT a shit pit. Swindon is NOT a crap town. And I should know – I come from one that actually made it into the Crap Towns book. There’s been two versions of that book (see image) and Swindon features in neither. Which is no surprise to me.
So where does all of this connect to last night’s lodger? Well:
Sometimes things are relative. I love Swindon because I come from a place with nothing. And when I say ‘nothing’ I mean nothing. Swindon has Barbury Castle and Liddington Hill – we had slag heaps. And emhysema. And there’s probably an element of that with my lodger. Relativity – not emphysema. But also…
… if, as he did, you approach Swindon with an open heart and an open mind she will ‘reveal’ herself to you. A bit like Brigadoon. (;look it up) And it’s clear that Mr HVD is well aware of Swindon’s charms.
A man of intelligence and insight evidently! And I wish him every success despite my misgivings about the location of the new art gallery/museum.
Location, Location, Location
Now there’s much contention about the location of the new art gallery/museum combo. I won’t lie – I’m not convinced about where it’s intended to be – but I AM convinced that this guy has the vision that Swindon needs. And that matters above all.
In the aforementioned article Mr HVD has this to say on the matter: ‘This is another thing I’ve noticed about Swindon. People think it has to be either/or. They think it’s the town centre or the ‘Mechanics’. But Swindon is big enough to have ‘and’ and not either/or.’ And he’s not wrong – it is.
All of which segues nicely into another point I’d like to make while I’ve got your virtual ear.
AT LAST the museum and art gallery has acquired a painting by Swindon artist Ken White. Get the flipping bunting out because it’s not before time. Ken is a son of Swindon – both literally and figuratively and still is. He absolutely, no question about it, deserves his place there.
But there’s another who I think deserves to be there too. Well – if it were left to me I’d have every Swindon artist in the place but that wouldn’t be altogether realistic – if not noble.
But seriously, if Swindon is big enough for the Mechanics’ Institute and the new museum/art gallery then isn’t the latter also big enough for Ken White ANDDavid Bent?
It doesn’t have to be either/or!
As someone that chose Swindon, as someone that involves himself in countless community activities and Open Studios. As someone that’s lived here for a good 20 years or so shouldn’t he be there too?
And apart from any of that he can paint quite well! 😉 Oh – and he has a good line in an anecdote it has to be said. And if that were a criterion for entry into museums he’d be in Tate Britain at the very least.