John Kelly: Irish Landscapes – New Show in New York

John Kelly will have his first US solo show this month, at 51 East 10th Street, New York. The show runs from 16 September to 15 October.

Press release:

Exhibition Organized by Spark Assoc. Art Management in association with O’Sullivan Antiques

Spark Assoc. Art Management is pleased to present the first U.S. exhibition of works by internationally renowned Australian-Irish artist John Kelly (b. 1965).

A noted sculptor, painter and printmaker, John Kelly first garnered international fame for his paintings and large bronze sculptures of cows (inspired by the papier-mâché ruminants William Dobell was allegedly commissioned to make for Australian airfields during World War II in order to deceive Japanese pilots). Kelly’s quirky reinterpretation of these cows have been exhibited on the Champs Elysées, Paris, in Les Champs de la Sculpture (1999), Monte Carlo, in La Parade des Animaux (2002), the MAMAC in France, The Hague (2007), Glastonbury (2006 and 2007), Melbourne Docklands (2001 to present) and Cork City (2011 to present).

His other famous bodies of work include prints and sculptures after the “Moonboy” by Sidney Nolan (Australia’s best-known modern artist), as well as sculptures formed after cultural institutions both real (such the Tate gallery in London) and imaginary (the Irish Pavilion for Venice Biennale, for example, when the country did not have a pavilion at the Biennale), within whose sanctified spaces he held miniature solo exhibitions of his work. In Australia, Sotheby’s serves as the exclusive agent for the promotion and sale of Kelly’s primary market sculptures since fall 2014; a rare – if not unprecedented – arrangement for a living artist.

The son of an Irish father and English mother, Kelly was born in Bristol, UK. His family immigrated to Australia when he was six months old, and he grew up there before relocating to Reen in West Cork, Ireland, in the early 2000’s. He maintains passports for all three countries. These differing cultures have shaped Kelly’s cultural identity and artistic production, while the history and the magnificent landscapes of West Cork proved to be of much inspiration for his recent body of work.

This exhibition brings together select pieces from Kelly’s recent Irish landscape paintings (2013-2014), the first major body of work he painted “in the elements.” Sketching and painting on his field easel propped atop a stone tomb, a spot that gave him an open view of the High and Low islands, Kelly captured the austere and ruggedly beautiful coastline of the islands and the two harbors of Castlehaven and Blind, set against the ever-changing West Cork sky. Kelly’s compositions are simple yet observant, the views ancient but fresh.

A group of paintings depicting mounds, sticks, and stones point us to follow the artist’s gaze inland. These paintings silently speak of Kelly’s search into the less-than-adequately visualized history of the land during an Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger) that struck the Irish population hard between 1845-1850. Since settling down in Cork, Ireland, Kelly has taken deep interest in the local history during the years of the Famine and the socio-economic dynamics that resulted in a peculiar lack of visual representations of the tragedy in Irish and British fine art. This interest had led him to a number of important sculptural commissions and participations in international bienniels, it is thus natural to see the topic re-emerge in his paintings of the land.

Regarding these paintings, Kelly wrote,

“Like sentinels, ten upright weathered wooden poles that are known colloquially as ‘The Sticks’ stand at the end of the peninsula. Originally eighteen were erected in the millennium year of 2000, all in a line. As the years have passed some have yielded and now lie in the long grass. Artist Susan O’Toole created this work as a blessing to the land where an Gorta Mór impacted with such devastating results. The remaining ten attracted my eye for not only what they represented but also their austere beauty….”

– Essay by John Kelly, “Stick and Stone” (2013) >read full text

Since producing this milestone series, Kelly has been taking his landscape paintings even further––both literally and figuratively. In 2014, Kelly participated in a residency in Antarctica during which he painted the sublimely beautiful pictures of the frigid landscape. Fifty seven Antarctic landscape paintings from this endeavor are on view in a solo exhibition at the TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) from June through September 2015. In 2016, Kelly is invited to attend a residency in Nevada, United States, where he plans to capture the burning, dry landscape on his canvas.

Kelly’s works are represented in notable collections worldwide, including Murdoch Collection, Australia, Musée Municipal A G Poulain, Normandie, France, Museum of Old and New Art, Moorilla, Hobart, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, TAS, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, and Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China.