Richard Kenton Webb
paintings - colour sounds and conversation, 2007 onwards


Spectral Red (Dark). Oil on linen. 68 x 115cm. 2007


Earth Red (Dark). Oil on linen. 200 x 200cm. 2007-8  


Spectral Red (Middle). Oil on linen. 68 x 115cm. 2008


Earth Red (Middle). Oil on linen. 200 x 200cm. 2008


Spectral Red (Light). Oil on linen. 68 x 115 cm. 2008


Earth Red (Light). Oil on linen. 200 x 200cm. 2008

Redness. Oil on linen. 200 x 200cm. 2008


Spectral Orange Red. Oil on linen. 68 x 115 cm. 2009

Spectral Orange Light. Oil on linen.  68 x 115cm. 2009

Spectral Orange Dark. Oil on Linen.  68 x 115cm. 2009



Colour Conversation

Richard Kenton Webb is interviewed by Dr Richard Davey, School of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University, July 2008. First published in Davey, R., ‘Figuring Light: Colour and the Intangible’, Colour Conversations, Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, 2010, pp.40-49.

Richard Davey: Between 2002 and 2005, you were working on a 'Colour Grammar', which assigns to each colour a spectral and an earth quality.  Could you explain what you mean by 'spectral' and 'earth'?

Richard Kenton Webb: I believe that for the practitioner, colour is a duality of Spectral-like and Earth-like colours which make a whole, rather like masculine and feminine.  I call this the double-difference.  The first is the difference in their order (red-violet) and the second is the difference in their type or gender (Earth or Spectral).  By Spectral, I mean the colours of the rainbow (166 with the naked eye).  By Earth, I mean the colours that are prevalent upon the earth but cannot be matched to be like any that we see in the colour spectrum.  This is a completely practical approach to do with using pigment and making paint to experience colour.  To begin to experience the physicality of colours, we need to meet them and use them in a pure form, not through mixture (that can come later).  If we do not use colour in its purist of forms, we end up making hybrids, polluted colours.  I don't believe in a hierarchy of colours - they are all unique and worth exploring.  The traditional idea of primary, secondary and tertiary is concerned with mixture.  Therefore, if a painter uses only mixtures of reds and yellows, he or she will never meet the uniqueness and individuality of the families of orange, green and violet but only hybrids.

In this series (Colour Sounds), I am considering the 'Spectral colours' as an interior palette (an inscape) and the 'Earth colours' as an exterior palette (an 'outscape') to that internal world.  But it is the conversation or movement or sound of the painting through the sculpture to the other painting that interests me.  This is my song.

RD: These most recent paintings focussing on 'redness' are obviously part of this grammar, but how did they come about?

RKW: As I made the Colour Grammar paintings I became aware of these colours having a form.  As these 'colour forms' started to emerge, I made the sculptures, which led to these new paintings.  The sculptures are the meeting point of the spectral and earth; between the flat, internal idea and the idea becoming reality.  When I moved the sculptures around, I realised that this is what my thoughts look like.  The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion talks about 'thought forms' and forms looking for a thinker; these red paintings have emerged from thoughts - colour thoughts - that have found their thinker!  They allow me to see my unconscious thoughts.

RD: The forms that emerge in the sculptures and paintings are very specific and tactile. They suggest machines and landscapes.

RKW: These works are about equivalents and are involved with the land.  The spectral paintings in particular are very 'landscapey', although I'm only saying this about them in retrospect.  They are equivalents for places in the Cotswolds; for Iron Age forts, mines and earthworks that reveal our constant working of the landscape.  The real protagonists in these paintings are the colours which control the forms.  As I paint, I'm constantly changing the colours to find the appropriate ones.  When I get the right four pigments, the interplay or conversation between them demands a particular form and these forms are visual equivalents for the particular sense of movement I associate with each colour.

RD: So you associate colour with movement?

RKW: Since my time at The Slade, my work has been concerned with movement, and now it is concerned with the movement of colour.  These paintings are a kind of homily, eulogy, or practical musing that there is a peculiar movement associated with the personality of each colour.  When I'm showing people the sculptures, some say that they don't see that particular colour's shape like that, but this is a misunderstanding of what the shape of my sculpture is all about.  The propellers, wings and mould shapes that can be seen don't emerge through reason or intuition, but because of the sense of movement that each shape evokes.  That's why there are so many variations of each colour, because I'm trying to play with the different forms that will capture the specific sense of movement I associate with that colour.

Music has always been an integral part of the making of my work.  This is why I have chosen to work with the composer Alexandra Harwood.  She is making a musical response to each movement - of painting to sculpture to painting - because there is that same sense of movement to be found in sounds.  It is important to understand that my work is not only about colour, but also about the sound of colour.  They make sounds for me, creating a sound world through the interplay of different shapes.

RD: Could you describe the sense of movement you specifically associate with these reds?

RKW: In retrospect, Dark Red seems to be about mould-like shapes.  That's why the paintings and sculptures contain these strange mould shapes!  Middle Red has more of an allusion to movement, a sense of pouring, of liquid within the form, of a medical connotation; it feels more like a full container.

RD: That's why the sculpture suggests a dissected heart?

RKW: Possibly, but the colour is never finite.  The Light Red looks more like a cast from the mould of Dark Red.  But to be honest, words are too clumsy and heavy for what I am feeling and intending.

RD: You limit yourself to four colours in each work, but what I find fascinating is that in paintings about red, you seem to include greys and browns.

RKW: To understand a colour, you need to put it against others of the same colour.  When you put Madras Red against other reds, it looks grey.  I've painted it out so many times, but it keeps coming back.  It is singularly red Earth Red.  Oh yes, and Brown, a strange word meaning so little to describe so much, but it explains nothing.  I tend not to use it directly!  The browns in this case all have a red undertone.

RD: Why do you concentrate so single-mindedly on colour?

RKW: I think that there is a metaphoric sense in colour that communicates something profound about the essence of things.  By limiting my field to a small aspect of colour, maybe I'll place myself in something.  Maybe I'll be able to let something emerge that will mirror the experience of others.

RD: What is striking about these paintings is the quality of their surface.  They don't glisten like most oil paintings, but have an intense matte flatness.

RKW: I wanted to explore the physicality and individuality of colours without the binder (that you sadly find in all manufactured oil paint) becoming too intrusive.  All of the manufacturers add too much oil in relationship to pigment content, so I decided to make my own paints and source my own pigments.  When I build up the layers of oil paint, I can get this dry quality with the colour.  It creates an almost hallucinogenic effect.  The colour can become so visually toxic and vibrant.  You lose the sensuality of the true pigment colour if it is too oily.  I want to be shocked by the intensity of the colour.  I want its true personality to come out.  It's that sense of playfulness that I'm intrigued with and want to achieve.  I want these paintings to be tightly painted but loosely found.

RD: And yet the sculptures are made out of white plaster, and remain uncoloured, and your preparatory drawings are black and white.

RKW: What I've said about each colour having a movement means that I don't need to use colour to talk about colour.  When drawing, shape and movement (and the history of movement and changing thoughts contained on a line), you can hallucinate the possibility of colour.  There are questions at the heart of these sculptures and drawings: can black and white and grey suggest colour?  There is something about a certain shape or rhythm that suggests colour, a synaesthetic crossing-over of our senses.  This is because the role of colour as a language is very largely underdeveloped in our lives.  We have after all a whole area of our visual brain that is given over to colour, as we have to form, tone, movement, space and others.  But these five areas can be awakened and exercised.  Wittgenstein talked about aspect-awareness and aspect-blindness.  It is my purpose to awaken myself and others to the language of colour, to become literate, to see and find its many characteristics.