Ken Palmer: Artist

Ken Palmer: An Appreciation James Spence in The Herald. 5th February, 2010

Photo: Ken Palmer, 1988. by Robert Burns.1944 - December, 2009

Seldom have so many people contacted me regarding the death of a Westender. However, Ken Palmer, who died on 29th December, 2009, was very special. He was a neighbour of ours for many years when we lived in Hillhead - a most hospitable, enthusiastic and friendly man. Like most people, who came in contact with Ken, I very quickly developed a soft spot for him, mainly because I warmed to his personality but I also admired his commitment to his work as an artist and dedication as mainstay of The Glasgow Group of artists.

Ken invited us to all his soirees, including his famous New Year's Day Open House, and to his curry parties with his artist friends. He often sent lovely cards with his colourful paintings and all in all was a person, who was generous with his time and happy to welcome you into his home and life.

I will have very fond memories of our conversations, his lovely homemade soup and Glasgow Group events and exhibitions.

He regularly visited us to talk about the development of his website and the Glasgow Group Website and was committed to another true labour of love - collating online his vast collection of his own paintings. We have been asked by The Glasgow Group to show this work on the website and we consider this an honour. Ken Palmer: Art

Pat Byrne, 14th January, 2009
(The photograph was taken in 1988 by Robert Burns and shows Ken in his home in Oakfield Avenue surrounded by his paintings.)

Photo: art by ken palmer. Roy Beers, writing about his friend Ken Palmer

I can't remember when I first met Ken Palmer, or even how we came to be introduced - but it was more than likely in The Doublet bar some time in the `80's, and it was almost certainly in the context of an informal discussion (amid clouds of cigarette smoke) about art.

It's hard to convey in any few, trite sentences just what sort of guy he really was. Generous, kind, unfailingly helpful to people of all kinds - but particularly artists - and unswervingly passionate about painting, especially Scottish painting, Glasgow artists and the pivotal role he was convinced this great city was and is playing in European contemporary art development.

Alasdair Gray has written a first class obituary of this thoroughly unusual (yet very approachable) West End man, and knew him both as a friend and as a fellow artist.

I am very glad that The Herald accorded him the space and prominence Ken's life deserved, not least because Glasgow's quality broadsheet newspaper and a packet of fags were two of Ken's habitual and essential accoutrements; a bunnet, a scraggly beard, thick "French 1960's radical intellectual" specs and a roll-neck sweater were among the others.

Born and educated in the south side he was nevertheless a "natural" westender - the sort of man you'd bump into in Byres Road or Kelvinbridge and end up chatting to and joking with for half an hour, with a bag of spuds (or whatever) in one hand and a fag in the other.

Sometimes his reassuringly bohemian flat in Oakfield Avenue would be crammed with other artists, not least on January 1 when, every year, he ran his celebrated Soup Kitchen for tired and emotional Hogmanay revellers.

I probably got to know him well from around 1990 - that year of great, semi-illusory promise - when he strained every fibre of his being into bringing work from the artists of Glasgow to the widest possible audience.

Then and subsequently he made friends and built two-way bridges to artists and galleries all over Europe - and would speak with open praise for Amsterdam, in particular, with its culture of small private galleries and major interaction between artists and large sections of the population: something he dreamed could happen here.

A little before 1990, maybe around '87, he was the driving force behind the only sentient arts page ever to appear (as far as I'm aware) in a weekly local newspaper. Alasdair Gray may not remember, but his own work - freely loaned - appeared in two very memorable full page prints in this humble and now defunct publication, again thanks to a favour sought by Ken.

Now my friend Mr Palmer is, at least technically, gone. Someone who was as familiar a part of my landscape (and actually a lot more interesting) than the Kibble Palace or Hillhead Library, is no more. Once we'd have had an erudite, beer-fuelled debate on the subject of what we really leave behind us when we make our excuses and take our leave of planet earth.

In Ken's case, the obvious answer is "his art". It resonates and pulsates with energy, sometimes bold, sometimes ghostly subtle; its fascination with and celebration of texture and the interplay of geometric with "natural" shapes and tones, were eternal and dominant themes.

I can practically hear Ken guffawing, while he lights another Gauloise, at this inadequate "Pseud's Corner" attempt to sum up his life's work - because in fact I can no more describe "art" than I've ever been able to describe good beer.

Alasdair Gray notes that while Ken had no close relations he will be missed by many, and he is absolutely right. He enriched my life enormously just by being himself, and I value every minute I spent in his time.

Like all valuable artists, authors and poets he will never be truly "gone" in the sense that most of us will be, and people yet unborn will be gripped by the power of his work in many different ways.

I'll remember Ken as a highly educated and linguistically nimble but down-to-earth Glaswegian child of the Beatnik generation, a decent man who was on the side of liberal thought, fair play and bold ventures.

Were he a stick of rock he would have had "Glasgow School of Art" running all the way through him - both in the professional sense and in his indefinable yet inimitable esprit.

I will salute him in my head every time I walk up Oakfield Avenue, and I will never forget that he was one of the best and most talented - and most modest - people that I have ever known.

Kenneth Palmer; An Appreciation by Alasdair Gray

The Herald Scotland - obituaries

Published on 15 January, 2010

In the last year of the Second World War, Kenny (as his friends called him) was born in Clarkston, a posh suburb of south Glasgow.

His father, who painted in his spare time, was a headteacher in Springburn, and Kenny's older sister Joan was also a painter.

It is not surprising that Kenny, after attending Eastwood Senior Secondary School, studied painting at Glasgow School of Art, from which he graduated in 1966.

Like most arts graduates, he trained as a teacher, then taught art in Cumbernauld High School until he took early retirement in the 1980s. He had decided to produce art, and also promote it, rather than teach it.

At that time private art dealers interested in contemporary local art, and public gallery curators who would exhibit it, were practically extinct in Scotland. There was certainly nobody to promote it internationally. Artists who gave up the struggle to promote their own work often became embittered recluses. Kenny was too cheerfully active to become a recluse.

He helped to create the Open Circle Arts Co-operative, and much later the Scottish Artists' Union.

He joined the Glasgow Group Arts Co-operative that had been founded in 1958, gave it new vitality and, before the end of 2008, instigated, designed and managed the Glasgow Group website. As a teacher in the 1970s, he had once tried persuading the organiser of a Munich artists' co-operative to exchange an exhibition with one of the groups in Glasgow.

She replied that of course Glasgow artists wanted to be seen in Germany, but why should German artists want their work seen in Glasgow?

In 2010 there are several reasons why Glasgow has again become known for its artists, and Kenny was one. He had 21 solo exhibitions in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. His work appeared in French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Polish and Canadian group shows.

About his painting! The earliest works were vivid, hard-edged, two-dimensional abstracts. A love of modern science and technology led to him make new images based on circuit boards. Using an airbrush, acrylic paint, stencils and digitally enhanced designs, he created what at first seemed perspectives of titanic future cities.

A new interest in biological forms produced what seemed weird landscapes on alien planets. A selection of these can be seen on his website,

He had many friends, many colleagues who were also friends, and I doubt if he ever made an enemy. He was a generous host and a good cook, though women friends sometimes assisted when meals for many guests were served in the upstairs Oakfield Avenue tenement flat where he lived for most of his working life. He also liked inviting companions to dine in the Gorbals restaurant of his friend, John Perdikou. Just over a year ago he became a victim of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which befalls one or two people in 100,000, and slowly destroys their nervous system.

He is survived by no near relation, but many will miss him.

Painter and schoolteacher,

Born 1944;

Died December 29, 2009.

Ken Palmer: An Appreciation James Spence in The Herald. 5th February, 2010