Review: "End Games" at Linda Schwartz Gallery




314 W. Fourth Street

Cincinnati, OH 45202


No Exit.jpg

“Making out like a bandit” takes on full and juicy meaning in one of Kevin T. Kelly’s five big, bright, knock-your-eyes-out paintings in the show “End Games.” But forget that dream: Even as we see the male half of a copulating heterosexual pair thinking of leaving (bandit style) through a window, the female half is speaking of a diamond ring and the work’s title No Exit, tells us who prevails.

Kelly spent nearly six years as a studio assistant to fellow Cincinnatian Tom Wesselmann, learning the Pop-art trade from an acknowledged master. His work comments wryly on love in our time, focusing on high hopes dashed in comic-book-style shorthand (Characters’ thoughts and words are indicated by the customary thought-and-speech bubbles) and the bold, flat colors of Pop. The artist’s copious collection of mass media art provides him with source material, as illustrated by preparatory sketches on view as well as his stylistic references to comics, advertising, and movies of the last half century. His work’s easy accessibility is deliberate, but gives us more than the immediate chuckle. Opening a week after Valentine’s Day, this show was Valentine’s evil twin, telling us things Cupid never revealed about romance.

Kelly’s central messages about love and its operations can be summed up briefly: Love imposes in For Whose Amusement?, in which the woman of a kissing couple imagines herself outlined in daggers against a wall, behind which heart shapes peek up. Love dissembles in Spatial Dilemma with one member of a heterosexual couple thinking homoerotically while the other clearly isn’t on that wavelength. Love evaporates in Modern Romance, in which an older woman speaks of love and her partner speaks of quieting the dog, but neither looks at the other.

These unsatisfactory couplings come to a somewhat rosier end for the characters in Grandma’s Cookin’. Smiling Grandma daydreams of her younger self -her gray hair once was dark, we note- in a mental reprise of lone-go lovemaking, while a smiling Grandpa thinks of her pancakes. However, the sensuality of food is not overlooked and these pancakes are sexy in the extreme: Behind them is the suggestion of a dark haired woman looking over his shoulder, and we think perhaps Grandpa sees more than pancakes on his plate. Kelly’s backgrounds are full of suggestion, with fragmented body parts reflecting the suffusion of sex in modern life, while the foreground narratives say we don’t handle it any better now than we ever did. “Is this all there is?” his works ask, using the forms and images of supposedly shallow, pop-culture-inflected thinking to nudge us into wanting deeper stuff. Viewers who wanted to argue back, “No, there’s more than this!” were probably doing exactly as Kelly hoped they would.

Jane Durrell, based in Cincinnati, writes on art and other subjects.



New art Examiner
May-June 2002