Welcome to the kevinduffy.info site. The aim of this website is to promote to a wider audience the work of Kevin Duffy, found in his garden centre, near Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan, UK.
Kevin welcomes visitors, please see the location link above for directions to the site.
Kevin is sixty-three years old and a self taught artist [or 'outsider artist'], who has spent the last thirty-one years building his own visionary environment. The work simply evolved from his love of building, but unlike the conventional need for shelter or function, Kevin’s works are all follies. Their only purpose is to satisfy a need in Kevin to build, to create something.
He has very strict rules with respect to his building methods and may only use found or donated objects. He sometimes decides to swop one object for another more preferable one and will even use something that is ‘new’ providing it is donated and not specifically bought for the task. His calls this system, ‘the standard’.
Most of the work is routed in Kevin’s interpretations of classic English vernacular styles. Kevin is particularly fond of the Lake District in the North of England and also enjoys the gardens and stately homes of Yorkshire. It is from these places that he draws most of his inspiration, however through his own private study of books and pamphlets, some of which are brought by visitors to the site, Kevin has widened his sources to as far a field as Egypt and South America.
He studies the principles behind the styles and has spent considerable time, for example, perfecting ‘gothic’ arches. He told me that the ‘Roman’ arch is easy to construct as a dustbin on its side can be used as a former, whereas the gothic arch needs special consideration.
The work is for the most part a façade-based installation. Very few of the structures have an interior, they are built more like stage sets along a continuous wall that stretches 460ft. The facades are constructed using reclaimed interior doors. A mesh is then fixed to the doors which, enables the final layer of sand-cement render to be applied. Using this method Kevin has been able to construct his Tudor village and Tea Shop. He sells sand and cement at the garden centre which keeps him in regular supply.
In addition to the facades there are other more three-dimensional works, such as a castle and tower structure. Kevin thinks about the perspectives and axis that are created by his installations. He explained to me how he thinks of the foreground, middle and distance, being careful to place structures at key moments to create a scene and carefully composed arrangement.
He has developed a small chapel, with an alter constructed from old railway sleepers and kitchen cabinets. Father Reynolds, the local priest, visited the chapel and he gave it his approval which encouraged Kevin to continue his efforts. The chapel is well received by visitors who light candles and donate to the collection tin that Kevin then gives to various charities. It is certainly a spiritual place and one is startled when leaving the church to realise that this place is with a working garden centre.
In contrast to the commercial, ‘force grown’ and expensive world of commercial horticulture this place is only a ‘garden centre’ by name, even by default – it has really transcended that world and its commercial aspect is only there to pay the bills, to fund the project and because Kevin enjoys growing plants and potting.
The Tudor Village is laid out as if part of a village square and the collection of around ten houses, clock towers and statues create a realistic setting. The scale of the work is slightly smaller than life size. Most of the buildings in the village have their own clock, located on the front façade and many have bells. Kevin collects these objects and for a period in the 1960’s even received payment in the form of Grand Father clocks for work he did for an antique dealer. Many of these clocks are still in Kevin’s home whilst the damaged and unwanted versions are reused in his constructions.
Many of the objects are salvaged from demolished buildings and Kevin has managed to obtain cap stones from Wigan polio hospital, bollards from Liverpool’s docks through to the peculiar such as a donkeys grave stone. In order to store these objects he has a built a museum and an antique shop. Nothing is for sale, but along with the tearooms and Tudor village, they invoke a distant, perhaps fantasy view of England.
Kevin also departs from this picturesque village scene with his small niche devoted to the ancient Egyptians and a more larger scene that he has labelled, ‘Aztec’. The Aztec section is a small enclosure for a family of ducks to live in. It consists of a series of large painted concrete scrolls embellished with additional ornamentation and rendering.
There are also a series of wells that Kevin has dug throughout the site to keep it well watered and as a features. He has also created a monument to his wife, who passed away twelve years ago. Within this he has set a small angel and it serves as a moving tribute to Pat, whom Kevin clearly misses.
Whilst I was at the site, Kevin was working on the latest addition, a small villa located within a very tight corner of the site [completed in September 2007]. Kevin enjoys surprising visitors and at various points there are mannequin heads and figures to shock the visitors. Within the villa he is planning on positioning a figure. He can only work on the project sporadically throughout the day as he gets called away to serve in the garden centre.
Kevin left school at the age of fifteen and like lots of people at that time in Lancashire, went to work in the cotton mills. He worked fifty-six hours per week and had over an hours walk to work and back each day. When the mills began to close Kevin concentrated on his music, playing with his wife, Pat, across the county in pubs and clubs. He continued to develop his interest in growing plants and vegetables and took over an allotment.
He purchased a house adjacent to the allotment field and began clearing the scrub land and neglected allotments, which took six years. During this time he began selling plants and cuttings to passers by and his reputation as a quality plant supplier grew. Almost by accident he had transformed the allotment into a business. He eventually sold the house and built a bungalow on the site where he now lives and manages the business along with his son, Carl.
The garden is a very special place, it is completely unexpected, despite being so close to the road remains an unknown treasure. The garden did feature on the BBC northwest tonight programme in October 2006, where it was compared to Portmeirion in Wales.
It does in parts have a similar feel.