Born in Sheffield in 1912 William Kenneth Wood studied painting at Sheffield College of Arts & Crafts, 1930 – 33. Shortly after leaving art college he was commissioned to paint the frontispieces for Jan Bussel’s Marionette Theatre, and was then persuaded to join a London based community of International artists and puppeteers, known as ‘The London Marionette Theatre’. Accompanying him south was his fellow art student and life long friend, the painter, Rowland Suddaby.
During this early period in London Charles Laughton, along with Sir Edward Marsh, Winston Churchill’s private secretary, encouraged and collected Kenneth Woods paintings. From 1936 he began exhibiting at Wertheim Gallery, and his 1939 exhibition was enthusiastically reviewed by Raymond Mortimer.
Despite developing his central passion for painting, surrounded by puppeteers, Kenneth Wood also started to hand carve his own marionettes (each two foot tall), and established an independent Marionette Theatre of his own. In 1937 he met and married Anne Waterman, moving to Essex from Fitzrovia, renting a disused Victorian School House, St Nicholas Cottage, Little Braxted, which remained Kenneth Wood’s principal home and studio throughout his life. During the war he was stationed in the Middle East, with the Royal Army Engineers, where he was assigned to the Camouflage Unit. In Cairo, he befriended the photographer, Dicky Grierson, with whom he was later posted to Iraq, sharing a house, on the banks of the Tigris, with the painter, Edward Bawden Following a one-man show in Baghdad, Kenneth Wood’s paintings were sent on to Cairo, for inclusion in the United Nations Exhibition.
Immediately after the war, he rejoined his wife in Paris, where they continued to live for several years. It was in Paris that their daughter, and only child, was born. From the immediate post-war years, until the early 1950’s, Kenneth Wood exhibited regularly at the Redfern Gallery: one-man shows in 1948 & 1950, plus a joint exhibition, with Osbert Lancaster in 1948, attracting critical acclaim and encouragement from Kenneth Clark and Eric Newton. During this period he enjoyed considerable success, exhibiting frequently and running Art History lecture courses for both the WEA (Worker’s Educational Association) and the Extra Mural Department of London University.
By the early 1960’s he had to reluctantly undertake a career as an Art Director at various London Advertising Agencies. In 1972 he set up his own small Design Studio, working for several large commissioning clients, including ‘Dunlop’ for whom he designed the iconic flashes on their tennis racquets and golf clubs.
By the late 1980’s he painted ceaselessly, producing a vast body of late works, while remaining, as always, his own most severe critic.
The hundreds of paintings he has left, quite apart from the large numbers sold into private collections, are matched by the numbers he regularly destroyed.
Kenneth Wood died on 27th March, 2008, aged 95.