Rembrandt and Amsterdam. Picasso and Paris. Warhol and New York. There is an indelible link between many great artists and the cities they lived and worked in. The same could be said of Ken White, Swindon’s most celebrated painter of the last few decades.
White is perhaps best known for his murals, sited in a wide variety of locations all over the world. To date, he has painted over one hundred of these massive street works, including some much-loved examples in Swindon.
For 26 years he was the personal artist for Virgin boss Richard Branson and has completed works for him in many Virgin establishments throughout the world, including megastores, recording studios and hotels.
With the launch of Virgin Atlantic in 1984, Ken produced what is probably his most well-known work; the ‘Scarlet Lady’ emblem which featured on all the airline's aircraft.
Although mural work has provided a living, Ken has always been, first and foremost, a painter and is now gaining recognition for his works on canvas.
Latterly, his work is concerned with depicting industrial landscapes and the lives of working men, strongly influenced by life in the railway workshops where he worked in his youth.
‘Railways and Landscapes’ the new exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery focuses on White's railway paintings and linocuts, and his Wiltshire landscapes.
Born in 1943, at the age of fifteen White followed his father and grandfather into the Great Western Works (GWR), initially as a riveter and then as a sign writer. It was the latter job that piqued his interest in art.
At night school at Swindon Art School he met future pop stars Gilbert O’Sullivan and Rick Davies (of Supertramp) who convinced him to leave the GWR and dedicate himself to art. That was the beginning of an artistic journey that has taken him around the world, but White’s hometown has been his most enduring inspiration.
Just the name of paintings in the new exhibition – ‘Steam Train’, ‘Off To Work’, ‘Hooter’, ‘Riveter’ and ‘Clocking Off’ – hark back to a time when the GWR employed tens of thousands of flat-capped workers and ‘the Works’ dominated the social and architectural landscape of Swindon.
The industrial settings and somber hues of White’s railway paintings evoke Van Gogh’s paintings of Belgian miners and their families in works like ‘The Potato Eaters’, and the northern cityscapes of L.S. Lowry. Whether it’s art or heritage that rocks your boat, ‘Railways and Landscapes’ is a must-see exhibition.