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John Kindness, born Belfast, 1951, is a painter, sculptor and multi-media artist, probably best known for his public pieces like the Big Fish (1999) at Donegall Quay, the Waterfall of Souvenirs (1991) at the Europa Bus Station, The Museum of the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, and Romulus and Seamus at the Fire Station in Dublin. He also produced some work in comics early in his career.
He attended Belfast College of Art in the early 1970s, an experience he does not speak highly of, graduating in fine art in 1974. After graduation he worked as a graphic designer and became involved in a small community press. In 1976 he created and published a comic called The Hand: A Tale of Old Belfast, a snapshot of life in north Belfast in which a young man named Sammy hangs around with the "corner boys", causing trouble, until he is killed in a drive-by shooting. A follow-up, The Three Graces, was never completed. Around the same time he contributed to the Belfast People's Comic, drawing Belfast hardman Jimmy Ripshite ("the man that ate the cooked ham raw"), and satirical strips about a Loyalist Navy and about how to tell the difference between Protestants and Catholics. He also drew a strip called "Screw the Bap and Head the Ball" for the Shankill Bulletin, in rotation with Davy Francis, from 1978 to at least 1982.
In 1986 he gave up his design work to become a full time artist. His work blends early with modern styles and unusual media, for example his series of paintings on car parts, his paintings of New York in the style of ancient Greek vase painting, and his recreations of Renaissance portraits as breakfast cereal boxes. He creates sculptures in mosaic, the most famous of which is the Big Fish in Belfast, and from found objects, like the Big Shoe Dog.
Comics continue to have an influence on his work: Belfast Frescoes is a sequence of captioned images in lime fresco on twenty old Belfast roof slates, telling the story of his childhood in Belfast in the 1950s. The work was conceived as a proposal for an artwork for the Belfast lounge at Heathrow Airport in 1993. It was not commissioned, but Kindness completed the work anyway. It was published as a book in 1995, with an accompanying essay by Belfast poet Ciarán Carson, and the originals are now in the permanent collection of the Ulster Museum. His 2008 exhibition "An English Interior", at the Foundling Museum in London, contained images based on Dudley D. Watkins' Desperate Dan comics and the art of William Hogarth.
He has lived in London, Carlow, New York and Rome, and currently lives in Dublin.
- John Kindness' website
- Personal statement for Zone Zero magazine, 1994
- John Brown, "Art & Society: New Image, Old Junk", Circa 82, Winter 1997, pp. 24-29
- Jonathan Highfield, "Ciaran Carson's Belfast Confetti and John Kindness' Belfast Frescoes", The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies Vol. 28 No. 2, Fall 2002 - Spring 2003, pp. 168-185
- Marianne O'Kane, "John Kindness: Rewriting Art History", Irish Arts Review (2002-) Vol. 23 No. 3, Autumn 2006, pp. 58-59
- Jeremy Briggs, Tube Surfing, Downthetubes.net, 23 November 2008
- John Kindness - Retrospective Exhibition (video documentary)