I’m sat in the back of the Castle Hotel pub alongside Mark Kennedy, a local artist renowned for his mosaic portraits of people affiliated with the city. Recently, he’s been keeping busy with commissions for the Manchester Dogs’ Home to raise money after the recent fire, and has another series set for display at Ridelow on Church Street, entitled Hate, Love, Sex and Death. Some of his more familiar pieces are found elsewhere in the Northern Quarter, ingrained into the walls of Afflecks, a defiant show of local history in a city centre becoming more and more homogenised.

The area has undergone huge changes in the past decade. Rent has risen faster than the increment on a pint, pop up eateries and trendy bars can be found in abundance and the local clientele have all but disappeared. Kennedy has been present throughout, stoically observing from a bar stool when not in the studio. I caught up with him to chat about Buddhism, art and the mystical state of inebriation. The following extract contains Guinness.

Is drinking a hindrance or an inspiration when creating art? 

I’ve always been a drinker. It’s the downfall of you and it’s also the making of you – it’s really difficult. There are moments when you cut through all of the shit and you just say what you want. That action, like we say, is Satori [seeing one’s true nature]. It’s Dada. It’s Surrealism. It’s fucking great, innit? But you can’t live your life like it forever. You can’t keep it going but that’s where drink comes in for me because it fuels that lovely passion I have for that moment of madness.

As far as work’s concerned, it’s fucked it right up. Does it fuck work up? Yeah. Does it fuck your brain up? Yeah. Does it fuck your life up? I’ve no idea.

How do you reconcile the feeling of being drunk and being a Buddhist? You were a monk for a time, weren’t you?

Yeah, I was, about 20 years back. Our Lama was surrounded by studious people – middle class, university educated people – but he also decided to bring a bunch of nutcases from Liverpool and Manchester. When we were guarding the Dalai Lama we had one lesson of Tai Chi, which didn’t work. So we decided to take baseball bats with us and we were waiting for the Chinese with baseball bats, and the Lama’s thinking, “I like this lot”.

The interesting thing was when the Dalai Lama walked into the temple and I said to him, “Really good to see you. I’m a big fan and I think you’re great”. He went berserk; started giving me loads of shit because you can’t talk to the Buddha in the temple – gave me a right fucking bollocking. I remember we had to look after that little Catholic woman, the little one who died. What’s she called?

Mother Theresa?

Yeah, that’s the one. Her nuns were stunning. Can you imagine being dressed as a monk and seeing a really fit nun?

Is that what interested you?

No. The guy that really interested me was a guy called Chogyam Trungpa. He used to hang around with Ginsberg and the Beat poets and they’d go and see him. He’d go on stage in a suit, two women on each arm, carrying a bottle of whiskey and then talk about the Lama. It was called Crazy Wisdom and you can see the lineage, the Kagyu of crazy wisdom. He died of it in the end, although he survived many things. He crashed his car once into a joke shop and all these teeth landed on his car chattering. He used to do interviews high on LSD and people would come into the room and he’d be lay there with this question mark drawn onto his chest.

Amazing people, and I got the end of that lineage. This young Lama who was called Lama Yeshe decided he wanted to have monks for a year and he just said, yeah, you be a monk for a year for me and see how you go on. So I did. He was a very forward thinking Tibetan man. His brother got murdered last year, the Abbott – Akong Rimpoche.

Do you know what his embodiment of the Buddha was? He was the medicine Buddah. When he fractures, he goes into a thousand pieces and all those pieces are aspects of the Buddha. He was medicine, an aspect of the blue Buddha and he was a teacher, a healer and people like us were drawn there for his healing and he ends up being stabbed.

At this point, a crowd pile out for a smoke. The discussion turns to The Fall, a band Mark has created album covers and stage backdrops for many times. An impromptu performance of ’50 Year Old Man’ ensues.

“I piss on the towels and leave them on hotel floors / I’m a 50 year old man / Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Mark Smith is the only one who makes any fucking sense in music. It’s like Beckett. It’s abstract as fuck, but it stays in your mind.

Has being spiritual stood you in good stead mentally?

I think I’m just going back to that time. The way I felt then, I’m just finding it again now. I just went mad for a decade. I still got up every day and worked and made art. The only reason I’m finding it now is because I’ve gone back to the shed and the garden. Staying out of town now – apart from this interview.

Sure enough, Mark sups up and heads home to his garden, leaving the beer garden revellers to their drunken quest for enlightenment. Another fractured mosaic to reassemble in the morning.


Nathan McIlroy