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Celebrating the Mysterious: Leo Kenney

Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner
June 2, 2000 - October 1, 2000


Leo Kenney, Voyage for Two(1953),
gouache on Chinese paper

Leo Kenney was born in Spokane in 1925 and grew up in Seattle, where as a budding, self-taught painter, "local heroes" Mark Tobey and Morris Graves influenced him. He was also heir to a great many other stimuli including the Surrealism served up in art publications by artists such as De Chirico, Dali, Magritte and Matta. Subsequently living up and down the West Coast, Kenney became part of the general Pacific Rim/orientalist/Jungian-inspired persuasion, which established for him significant form. Kenney's elegant and precisionist oil, egg tempura and gouache works are iconic and figurative by inclination, a tendency that began with a Catholic childhood through which he found enchantment in the ritual and objects found in candle-lit church interiors. Over the years, his self-styled iconic imagery became more ecumenical and abstracted, often displaying faceted geometric or glowing, mandala-like motifs. In 1968, after an exhibition with the Willard Gallery in New York (a major showcase for Northwest painters) mythologist Joseph Campbell selected one of his images to illustrate a published essay, and Zen exponent Alan Watts bought another. If one looks at the dates of the works in this all-encompassing exhibition, it becomes apparent that Kenney was not so much a second-generation acolyte to Tobey and Graves as an important innovator and forerunner of much of late-Twentieth Century art, which has returned to psychological spiritual and figuative themes.

© Ted Lindberg