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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 14 August 2008

A rare appearance: John Joseph Sheehy with some of his work
Quiet – but full of ideas

JOHN Joseph Sheehy is nothing if not prolific. The Irish artist, a former roofer who has battled homelessness and mental illness, only delved into art in his fifties on the suggestion of his psychotherapist.

Now the 59-year-old paints as if it was going out of style; big, energetic strokes on canvases of all sizes. He has also written 800 poems.
But when it comes to discussing his prodigious output, silence is Mr Sheehy’s watchword.
When I attended the private view of Dreaming With My Eyes Open, his debut solo show at the Novas Gallery in Parkway, on Tuesday evening, the artist was nowhere to be seen.
“He doesn’t like to talk about his art, for him it’s all about the physical act of doing it,” Julia Elmore, joint curator of the exhibition with Novas Arts, told me.
She described him as an “understated, humble man... oozing creativity” who shuns the limelight and paints furiously in a number of different day centres which he attends.
The work he produces – memories of his childhood in rural Ireland and oblique takes on his experiences of London street life – are bold and free. Until the man behind it can be coaxed out, we’ll have to let the art speak for itself.

Harriet and Julie fall foul of the checkpoints

I READ with interest a story in the Guardian on Saturday about a recent trip taken to Israel by journalist Julie Bindel and her partner Harriet Wistrich.

You may recall Harriet’s parents Enid and Ernest Wistrich were two Camden Labour councillors in the 1970s.
The story told of how Julie and Harriet travelled to Israel to attend the arranged marriage of Harriet’s niece, the daughter of her brother Daniel, who had become a Hasidic Jew in his early 20s and had moved to Israel.
I called Julie and she told me how she and Harriet, a human rights lawyer, went to the wedding and took the opportunity to visit the West Bank.
They met a group called the “Checkpoint Grannies” – a group of elderly Jewish women who travel to the 700 checkpoints that link the West Bank with the rest of the country.
“They are very brave,” Julie told me. “They monitor how the checkpoints work and how they are manned. They time how long Palestinians are made to queue to get through them.”
Little did Julie know that she would fall foul herself of the stringent nature of the Israeli checkpoints.
“I normally carry my passport where ever I go,” she revealed. But on this trip, she had not put it in the bag she was carrying.
“We approached a checkpoint, and I realised I did not have my passport with me. They would not let me through.
“We were stuck. It was nerve-wracking. We discussed our situation with a taxi driver, and he spoke to a friend of a friend of a friend...”
The pair were then driven along the border until they came to another checkpoint, where the driver knew the guards were “less stringent”. Eventually the pair got through.
The trip left her with a deep sense of sadness.
“Some Palestinian attitudes leave a lot to be desired,” she said. “But the people living on the West Bank are in a situation I would not like to be in.”

Ping pong? Ding dong!

MY pictures shows that wonderful actor Leslie Phillips OBE enjoying some Friday night relaxation at the Old Eagle pub in Camden Town.

The boozer holds a once monthly ping-pong tournament in its back garden to raise money for charity and last week Leslie picked up a bat and showed the youngsters how the game should be played.
True to form, the charmer, who has starred in hundreds of British comedies and often gets cast as rather a ladies’ man, agreed to make up a doubles team with British Transport Police worker Julie Patten.
The 88-year-old actor had a good backhand – “the sign of a misspent youth,” he told fellow drinkers.
One regular tells me: “He is a lovely bloke – he saw we were playing and sauntered along and joined in.”

Call for councillor volunteers unheeded

WILL any Camden politician take up the mental health cause?

Not, it seems, unless there is a few grand up for grabs.
After an exhaustive seven-month search the newly formed Camden and Islington Foundation Trust still cannot a single Camden councillor willing to take an unpaid role sitting on its board of governors.
A report to governors from the trust’s business director David Lee, in a meeting on July 17, revealed: “The London Borough of Camden has yet to make appointments to its two seats on the governors. A number of communications have taken place with officers and members about this since December 2007 and it is hoped that appointments will be made soon.”
By contrast, Islington has no trouble finding councillors eager to take up the cause of mental healthcare.
The new board of governors – made up of health workers and ­service users – sits just four times a year. So why the snub?
The fact that ­governors are unpaid has not gone unnoticed by one reader (see ­Letters, page 16).
Councillor Kirsty Roberts gets a salary from the trust to serve as “Mental Health Champion”.
She told me: “I would say this is because of the transition to Foundation Trust status. Getting councillors to take on anything additional to their remit is always going to be difficult. They are too busy to get involved. It is really important to raise awareness – which is what I have been trying to do as mental health champion.”
Camden councillor James King was a non-executive director of the old Camden and ­Islington Mental Health and Social Trust. His post was dissolved when the trust moved for foundation status five months ago.
If there are any Camden councillors or NHS managers left who still believe in voluntary public service, could they please stand up?

Bill is all art

BILL Kenwright, the chairman of Everton football club and one of the UK’s most successful theatre producers, will lend his considerable clout to the shoestring youth arts company, DreamArts.
Mr Kenwright, the backer of West End shows Blood Brothers, Shirley Valentine and Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, assumed the role of chairman last week in a move described by DreamArts’ ecstatic artistic director Graham Whitlock as “the best birthday present” a charity could have. And top of the billing for the new boss is a production of Quest at Holborn’s Cochrane Theatre, from August 29.

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