40 years in the making

By Michelle Blackwell

One of Canada’s senior contemporary artists, Garry Neill Kennedy, compiled 80 pieces of his work from various exhibitions over the past 40 years to create a show with a unique flavour, Work of Four Decades.

"My work definitely has minimalist overtones," says the former president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. His colourful and provocative exhibition includes paintings, drawings, wall works, books and photographs. "That’s where I got my toilet training-the ’60s."

Although the art in Work of Four Decades has shown before, creating an exhibition of this size requires an enormous amount of work.

"I normally make a visit and take snapshots of the space," says Kennedy, who develops plans based on the exhibition space before creating a show. "Sometimes, the creation process takes two to three weeks. I spread it out, I digest things-I like time to let things play around inside me."

Once Kennedy pieces together and organizes his show, it still takes two weeks for a full crew to uncrate the work, do the under-painting and prepare the space.

Kennedy aims his work at educated, informed professionals.

"My work has a lot to do with current discourse and contemporary art," he says. "It has a lot to do with the history of painting as well, so I don’t expect the general public to be in on that stuff. If it interests them and takes them another step, that’s great."

Although his work is often politically charged and deals with current events, Kennedy prefers subtle irony to overt statements. In his work "The Native," dealing with the so-called founding of the Americas, Kennedy emphasizes the irony of the celebration, pointing out the destruction of two continents of indigenous peoples.

"I went to the movies because that’s probably the most insidious way of communicating the irony. Then I went to the paint store and chose paints whose titles had native cultures in them. All the paint was not chosen for its colour, it was chosen for its name."

Kennedy doesn’t always expect his audience to pick up on his statements.

"I don’t expect too much of a show in terms of political impact," he says. "As an artist who is concerned with things that are going on in the world, my hope is that if enough people are concerned, maybe it’ll be a better world."

Leave a comment