"I have no general description or theoretical position which can be used to explain my work.... It asks questions about painting - my painting, other artists' painting, contemporary and historic 'high art' painting and 'low art' painting, like painting a house or a sign... I can also say safely that my work is often about the place where I make it.... I have found that work that asks questions about place and material is invariably critical."
Garry Neill Kennedy, 1995
Garry Neill Kennedy is an artist, art educator, and a former art college president. He studied at the Ontario College of Art and then earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Buffalo. Kennedy completed his Master of Fine Arts at Ohio University in 1965. While maintaining his own practice as an artist, he led the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) into its position as an internationally recognized centre. He was the president of NSCAD from 1967-1990, where he continues to teach. Kennedy's impact on NSCAD was immediate and substantial, making it over as a conceptual art Mecca. He cultivated a strong bond between NSCAD and New York artists and art institutions.
While including a wide range of materials in his work, Kennedy is best known for his paintings, which is unusual for an artist who is known as a conceptualist. Conceptualism is associated with art of the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized the ideas that generate an artwork, rather the creation of art objects. Allocations (1980) was installed as part of an exhibition to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the National Gallery of Canada. Kennedy claimed the unused space from the entire exhibition as his space, his allocation. His work appeared in the exhibition as a hand-out sheet asserting his claim to this area. Kennedy's work thus questioned the institutional framework of the gallery that divies up space like real estate for artists to temporarily occupy.
Kennedy chooses the materials, lays out a set of rules by which the painting will be executed, and then gives himself over to the process by following his rules to the completion of the work. He solves the problem he has set for himself within the limitations of the materials. Ideas he has followed-up on through painting in the past include: What is the average-size Canadian painting? What is figure painting? What commercial paints include references to American history in their names? An American History Painting (The Complete List of Pittsburgh Paints Historic Colour Series) (2000), includes a swatch of each colour surrounding the name of that colour painted directly on the wall. These are stacked floor to ceiling from the longest to the shortest name, which happens to be Gunstock, the colour that serves as a background for the work. This was a coincidence that Kennedy appreciated, since he sees the words "guns" and "stock" as ciphers that point to how the United States rose to global power.
Garry Neill Kennedy continues to live and work in Halifax, Nova Scotia.