20" x 60" / 51cms x 152cms
Oil on Canvas
Blackthorn with Moon is a theme Webb has taken on several times through his long career; notably in the late 60s/early 70s. The spectral image; the bare skeletal structure highlighted by the brightness of the moon; appeals equally to Webb’s spiritual and graphic sensibilities. For an artist who is possibly best known for his colour use; this theme may seem at first to be an unlikely choice; but Webb sees intensity even in the darkness of the night.
In the very early 60s; Kenneth Webb created the now iconic mural in Bangor Abbey that stands around 25ft high behind the altar; in place of the more traditional extravagant stained glass window. The mural depicts Christ rising; a blackthorn crown on his head; and the three saints most associated with Bangor Abbey kneeling below amidst blackthorn motifs. This magnificent work; beloved and mesmerising in equal measure; is proof that the connection between the blackthorn and spiritual devotion has gestated within Webb’s soul for decades.
Most recently; in ‘Cathedral’; this idea has crystallised into a powerful evocation of the Blackthorn as spiritual emblem; long associated with omens: death; the coming of winter; and also with protection; shedding of the old and readying for rebirth. This most recent and magnificent blackthorn; silhouetted against the full midwinter moon; demonstrates the very best of the theme; creating a stained glass window effect; such as Nature might forge in her own cathedral. Webb has set the black tree against a graphic all-season landscape; like the leading between panes of coloured glass; and accented the piercing branches not only with white snow; but also with red. When asked about this decision; he replied simply; “It has to be red.” Perhaps this harkens to the mythical association of blackthorn with defensive wounds or Christ’s blood; wearing the blackthorn crown at his crucifixion.
As with many of Webb’s masterpieces; the impact from Cathedral grows with each viewing; this painting has evoked possibly more shifts in emotion from its viewers than any other in this exhibition.