Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 50 seconds
Everyone has a story. Holloway-based artist Garry Kennard â the man who mixed up art and neuroscience for anyone to enjoy at the Winchester Festivals – was born in 1948 at home in a council flat off Upper Street. Heâs spent years away from Islington but now heâs back painting, writing and planning his next trip to the mountains. Interview by Nicola Baird
It’s possible that one of Garry Kennard’s proudest moments was when the Islington Gazette ran a story about a brave “climbing pensioner” who had scaledÂ a mountain just a few months after having two new hips. Garry, 67, is amused by the word pensioner, and explainsÂ he wanted to make sure the Whittington Hospital got the credit for his fitness. BesidesÂ there’s a lot Garry couldÂ wave his walking sticks about triumphantlyÂ including his paintings, essays and the Art & Mind Festivals.
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The Holloway Icons â 39 portraits of people who lived or worked close to Garry Kennard – are an impressive collection of shopkeepers, residents and local superstars Jeremy Corbyn, MP and Arsene Wenger.
With the exception of Jeremy Corbyn “who just looked too grim”, most portraits, even the children, stare unsmiling out, wreathed in gold as if they are uncomfortable deities. The icons were painted by Garry who was born into what he calls âa pretty rough working class Islington at the back of the Town Hall. Wakelin House, Sebbon Street is a â30s block and itâs still there. When I was born there was no hot water, we used a copper thing to heat water.â
Although home life was fun, heÂ didn’t like the area much and admits: âI left home as soon as I could by moving to Belsize Park.â
For years Garry moved around London avoiding Islington. He then spent 10 years rebuilding two houses in the Corbieres Hills near Perpignan, France. âThey were used as a gite and for exhibitions and concerts. But the area was exactly like the sort of society portrayed in the film Jean de Florette (1986), which meant when we made friends with a few people, we also made enemies with others, it wore us out.â
It was while drawing trees in France that Garry had his moment of epiphany. âIâve always been a painter and in France I became very interested in the way works of art have their effect on the human nervous system. I looked on the web and found that really serious neuroscientists were also looking into this. So I started writing about it from an artistâs point of view. Iâve always written a lot of letters and so I wrote to Rita Carter, author of Mapping the Mind asking what the public knew about this. She said ‘not a lot’.â
The pair met, became friends and dreamed up the idea of regular festivals which combined art and science in a unique way, see more about these here. After securing ÂŁ60,000 of funding Garry based himself in Winchester where he ran Art & Mind Festivals from March 2004 until October 2009. The first festivals were sell-outs and attracted luminaries from both the art and science worlds, in part because of patronage from two celebrity scientists â Richard Dawkins and world renowned neuroscientistÂ V S Ramachandran â but also because of the mix of lectures, discussions and performances, or as Garry called it âthe theatre of discourseâ.
Garry might have stayed in Winchester if funding hadn’t become too difficult and that he hadnât met his current partner, Erif, who he describes as a âcity girlâ who wanted to go back to London to a flatÂ she owned in Islington. âIt almost felt like a defeat,â he says with a smile, âbut I got over it immediately.â
Places Garry Kennard loves in Islington
âMy middle brother still lives in Islington off Essex Road.â
âI first remember going to Chapel Market with my mother when I was very young. She did a lot of shoppingÂ there. Itâs not changed much, theyâve still got the pie shop, though they used to chop eels up outside.â
Manzeâs Eel, Pie & Mash Shop, 74 Chapel Market, N1 â reviews on Yelp here http://www.yelp.com/biz/manzes-eel-pie-and-mash-shop-london
âI like to go to Cass Art off Essex Road. Itâs enormous and you get good bargains.â
66-67 Colebrook Road, N1 https://www.cassart.co.uk/
âOne of my favourite places is Whittington Hospital. I like to give them publicity as over the past 18 months as theyâve been marvellous – Iâve had two hip replacements, a kidney stone out, a perforated colon and Iâve been circumcised. Within threeÂ months of my 2nd hip operation I was climbing in north Wales and then skied in France.â
Whittington Hospital is on Magdala Avenue, N19
âI went to Queenâs Head School â a terrible secondary modern. Youâll know it as Islington Green (or even COLA, City of London Academy). But I met an art teacher there who saved my life!â
Garryâs tenaciousness is most obvious when it comes to his passion for mountains. With Islingtonâs highest hill at 129ft (443m)*. Itâs no surprise that it was elsewhere â on a trip to Switzerland with his second wife to see the Eiger â that he first wondered what it would be like to climb a mountain. It wasnât long before the mountain bug was so strong that Garry could describe himself as âa mountaineer and occasional extreme rock climberâ. He climbed in the Alps and then led expeditions in 1984 and 1989 to the Himalays. Here with Sherpa guides and his friend Mark Adams, Garry tried to try to climb the 6,620m (21,719ft) Kande Hiunchuli mountain in Nepal. Both times his team had to turn around 600m (1,968ft) from the top.
When Garry was 62 his team tried again, and were still thwarted. You can see pictures from the last expedition here.
âI gave my stuff away,â he says, but itâs clear he hasnât stopped thinking about the unclimbed Kande Hiunchuli, or properly retired. âOn Google Earth Iâve seen a new flatter route which no one knew about,â he says. Any new expedition may be stymied by a lack of the ÂŁ6,000 it would cost to make the attempt, but in case this problem can be solved some fitness training has already begun – within three months of Garryâs most recent hip replacement he was climbing in north Wales, and this August (2015) he was rock climbing on Lundy Island. “IÂ also train by getting up Highgate Hill as fast as I can. Since myÂ first hip operation I’veÂ made 58 ascents.”
In quieter moments Garry is working on the growing collection of works he calls Lemon Tree Suite â watercolours and drawings done on A3 white paper linked by the little lemon tree in the corner of his studio. See some of the pictures hereÂ .
As Garry points out âmost of my new work is based in this house or sometimes the view from the garden â so itâs very local.â Even if the photographs are of huge climbing victories around the world from the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney to that unconquered peak in Nepal, itâs Garryâs own large paintings done in Islington of Islington â a triptych of trees reflecting into water or sky along the New River â that dominates his cosy sitting room and in the studio itâs the Holloway Icons.
Garry is a man who has a huge capacity to think, talk, debate and then tell the story another way using colour, while anticipating the work the viewersâ minds will have to do too.
- http://www.garrykennard.com/Â www.artandmind.org
- Free download of Garry Kennardâs latest book, Essays & Images from his website here http://www.garrykennard.com/writing/Home.html
- You can find out more about theÂ Art & Mind Symposia here
- More about members of the Art & Mind team, is here
Zenobia â a famously beautiful 3rd century warrior queen who lived in what is now Syria.
Highgate (north) hill starts in Islington and ends in Haringey. It is 129m (423ft). The tallest hill in Greater London is Westerham Heights, Bromley is 245m (804ft). The hills around Crystal Palace are 110m (361ft) and 112m (367ft)
Over to you
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