John Kindness (b.1951)

The Death of Herakles (2008)

Engraved car bonnet with oil scumble

100cm x 133cm

Courtesy of the artist

John Kindness was born in Belfast in 1951 and studied fine art at the Belfast College of Art where he graduated in 1974. Throughout his career he has used traditional methods such as mosaic and fresco painting to explore contemporary themes and defy conventional notions of the fine art object. His work often contrasts material, image and reference in an unusual and humorous way.

Kindness has had solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, Art in General in New York, and Third Eye Centre in Glasgow. His work has been included in group exhibitions at Imperial War Museum in London, Tucson Museum of Art, Centre de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona, and Shanghai Art Museum.

His work often focuses on Ireland, in particular Belfast. For example, Belfast frescoes, 1995, was a series of lime fresco panels that depicted a Belfast childhood as it moved from the domestic to the wider world. In 1999 Kindness won a commission to create a ten-metre-long Atlantic salmon carrying the history of Belfast on its ceramic cladding. The work Big Fish was installed as part of the regeneration of the Lagan riverside in central Belfast and has become a popular attraction in its own right.

This piece is an example of Kindness’s use of unconventional materials. The paint of a car bonnet has been scraped away and then darkened with a metal oxide with the resultant effect reminiscent of classical Greek vases. The scene refers to the moment at which the Greek hero Herakles has been mortally infected by a poisoned tunic and ends his life by building his own funeral pyre and climbing on to it. Alongside Herakles are two figures playing a flute and beating a drum. Kindness is alluding to the dangerous practice of jumping through the embers of a dying 11th night bonfire.

This piece depicts the Gobbins, a cliff face path at Islandmagee Co. Antrim that first opened to the public in 1902. It is indicative of Luke’s work In the 1930s, when he focused on abstract and decorative landscapes with rolling mountains, hills and mounds, painting in bright, almost unnatural, colours laid over white to make them even more intense.