Kevin T. Kelly's Pop Art More Than Skin Deep
By Vicki Prichard
At first glance you might be, well, shocked. But odds are you wont be able to turn away from he bigger-than-life paintings of women clad in tiny negligees, dashing, dressed-for-success men and the weapons of war and destruction that hover above the two of them. Sometimes there’s even a bomb hurtling in their direction. Suffice to say, the perspective that Kevin T. Kelly puts on his canvas is anything but subtle.
“The subject matter scares a lot of people,” Kelly says.
The Covington artist graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1987. In 1988 he moved to New York City where he worked for Pop artist master Tom Wesselmann. Wesselmann, a Cincinnati native and fellow Art Academy alumnus is recognized for his uniquely brash collages, particularly in his series, Great American Nudes.
While in New York City, Kelly’s work was featured in the Bruce R. Lewin Gallery in Soho, where he worked for six years. His work is still featured and sold at the Lewin Gallery.
“I got into Bruce's gallery on the same day my son, Jack was born,” Kelly recalls.
At the root of much of Kelly’s work is his perception of gender roles of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly American women of the era, and how those images have evolved over the years.
“I look at it as art with a postmodern twist,” Kelly says about his work.
POMO on the Canvas
Postmodern art, typically, incorporates various genres into a patchwork of design that attempts to offer some commentary on contemporary culture. The bold figures of Kelly’s work - full-figured women and lean well-dressed men who are juxtaposed with weapons- capture his unique take on the world.
“It’s more about contemporary issues, influences of the media in our country, but most of all it’s about relationships,” he says.
In his evaluation of contemporary issues of media, gender and violence, Kelly says he feels like he is examining a black comedy.
“It really displays my cynical view of the world,” he says.
Kelly describes his work as very process-oriented. In his studio, boxes bulge with old issues of Time and Life magazines, where he says he finds images that spark ideas for allegorical narrative.
Price of Creativity
For the most part, Kelly works with acrylics on canvas or paper. And while he has local collectors, most of his work is sold on the east and west coasts. His biggest client, however, is across the Atlantic. “I have a a major collector in Switzerland,” Kelly says. Kelly says this client likes WWII fighter aircraft, so for his first commissioned piece he came up with the idea to paint an aerial dogfight as a metaphor for relationships.“In the last four years, he’s bought 20 paintings. All are large, some up to 10 feet high.”
That comes to no small change, considering a 70 by 85 inch original work on canvas runs from $ 12,000. to $ 15,000. Prices for Kelly’s original pieces range from $1,000. to $ 1,200. for a pencil drawing, to $ 750. to $ 900. for Prismacolor sketches. Mid-size paintings carry a price of anywhere from $ 5,500. to $ 7,500.
Defining Your Muse
Always seeking avenues of inspiration, Kelly recently participated in an art event called Skin Deep that dealt with artistic perceptions of the body. Six artists were chosen to paint on the bodies of live models. Kelly videotaped his work and titled it “The Malevolent Muse.”
Mimicking the women in his paintings, Kelly coated the model’s skin with a bold orange paint, cast deep blue streaks through her hair and used a lighter orange to demarcate bikini lines.
Typically the muse inspires the artist. Kelly’s goal in “The Malevolent Muse” was to create a muse that absorbs the work as soon as the artist creates it.
What’s in a Name?
Kelly never randomly selects a name for his original work.
“Titles play an integral role in perception,” Kelly say. “I try to make them as humorous as I can.
‘As far as narratives go, I come up with a narrative but I’m always interested in having it open- ended - to hear what the viewer perceives. I’m far more interested in opening a line of query than pontificating in a didactic fashion.”
The Northern Kentucky Sunday Challenger
July 16, 2004