Kenny MacArthur grew up in Stornoway. A townie who lived next to the sports centre, Kenny was obsessed with five-a-side football, table tennis and BMX bikes. Many of the friends he grew up with in town would later become Kenny’s surf buddies. I’ve screen-printed key locations in their childhood on the map of Stornoway that underlies Kenny’s portrait.
After leaving school, Kenny joined his family’s building firm and became a joiner. His craft is represented as a dovetail joint in the top left-hand corner of the painting.
Around that time in the late 1980s there was a growing interest in watersports on the island. Until then, Kenny had preferred more urban sports and had little experience of the sea but one cold November day all this was to change. A man called Ian Lawson - one of the very original surfers on Lewis - gave Cheggs and Saul (two of Kenny’s close friends) an old surfboard. With this old board and one wetsuit between them Kenny and three of his pals headed to Tolsta beach. From that moment on they were hooked.
At every opportunity Kenny would pull up in his old blue Mercedes work van and Fraser, Cheggs (featured in the exhibition) and Saul would jump in with their boards and they’d head out of town in search of waves.
To begin with Kenny and the small surf community of Lewis were pretty much on their own. But as word of the island waves and way of life spread, others were drawn to Lewis. Kenny is a warm and welcoming character. Many who came to Lewis remember meeting Kenny for the first time and some who stayed (like Mark, Jim and Francois whose portraits I’ve also painted) even ended up working for him when they first moved up.
Lewis in the mid 1990s was also becoming famous for another phenomenon: Friday night life. The pub scene was thriving and after closing time the narrows in the centre of town would become one huge party. It was here sitting on the pyramid, an incongruous 1990s piece of public art, that Kenny met Isla.
Their relationship became focused around the beach, surfing, camping and travelling in Kenny’s legendary T2 purple camper van called Nancy (the venue in the exhibition for Jim’s film). This key moment in Kenny’s life is symbolised by the pyramid on the left-hand side of the painting.
In his late twenties Kenny travelled to Australia and South America but the pull of the Islands was too strong. He returned to Lewis, threw himself into island life and joined the Stornoway lifeboat crew. Kenny’s connection with the sea and the RNLI is reflected in the 17-18 number, the port holes, railings and blue/orange colours of the Tom Sanderson Stornoway lifeboat. Below the lifeboat symbols are the waves of Kenny’s favourite break in Bragar on the West side of Lewis.
Kenny married Isla and they built a beautiful self sufficient house in Grimshader. They have two children seven-year-old Kate and 10-year-old Lawson who is named after Ian Lawson, the friend who loaned Kenny that first board all those years ago.