Review: "End Games" at Linda Schwartz Gallery



As much Freud as funnies in Kelly's paintings

By Fran Watson


Just when Kevin Kelly seems to to have been neatly filed into a category, he slips the leash and adds something new. He’s done it again at Linda Schwartz Gallery with a process-intensive display that carries gallery-goers along through a journey into an artist’s complex creativity. From the first pencil renderings -all measuring less than ten inches and full of technical excellence - to the final super-sized paintings as large as eight feet, none of them can be easily dismissed.

The complete show, End Games, a kick in itself, is accomplished in just five images: “Grandma’s Cookin’ “, “Modern Romance”, “No Exit”, “Spatial Dilemma”, and “For whose Amusement?” It’s best to begin at the back of the gallery then work forward to the finished, wall-sized painted products, adding Kelly’s psychological spices as the work sizzles.

Each piece appears first as a finely detailed pencil drawing. Blacks, the intensity of which would be thought unbelievable without ink, are indeed simply pencil, so meticulously worked that they carry a degree of unreality. The second edition of the same images are carefully copied duplicates worked into with colored pencil. Once again, these are so professionally presented that the first impression is that the work must be painted.

According to Kelly, there is another step, in a slightly larger format in acrylic, not completed in time for the show. Toward the street end of the gallery are the paintings. Same subjects, but larger than life, expanding with in-your-face, subliminal backgrounds.

Kevin T. Kelly's "Modern Romance" (2001) hints at levels of truth between the sexes.

Kevin T. Kelly's "Modern Romance" (2001) hints at levels of truth between the sexes.

Thoughts are depicted by bubbles leading up to balloons over the subjects’ heads. Spoken words are attached with comma tails. These delicate differences lend a whole new box-car of meanings to the comic-book characters. Then add in the backgrounds: None can be explained in one description. Sex is layered, buckled, subtle-ized, but it’s in there, inexorably expanding on a single theme: How well do any of us know each other? In the midst of intimacy, what is happening in our partner’s mind?

“Grandma’s Cookin’ “ could well be the simplest example of contentment gone awry. Grandma is cookin’ up memories of hot sex. Grandpa is cozily dreaming of pancakes. Or is he? Get a load of the background. Luscious ladies give the old guy the eye behind those buckwheats and tell more about the menu than Granny could ever envision.

"For Whose Amusement?” also hints at levels of truth. The young lady, pinned to a target board while being bombarded by knives, looks just a bit salaciously pleasured. Not as bad a situation as might have been thought. Victim or victor?

Romance gets a dose of reality in the she says / he thinks edition, “No Exit”. Pay attention to those balloon connections and the so-much-more going on between man and woman. No situation here is cut and dried.

Characters in Kelly’s works are often images lifted from an existing source, but their stories are all too possible in the tangled reality of relationships. So much of an artist goes into art, including personal experience -especially such labor-intensive pieces as these- that truth and fiction are not easily separated.

While End Games is certainly not traditional art, multi-leveled narrative is not its only fine quality. Acrylic, repeatedly coated with attention to obliterating any sign of brush marks, attains a level of color close to Day-Glo in the main arena of the subjects, dwindling via deepening tone as the layers of thought recede but retaining that same intensity and hard-edge vibration from front to back. The battle rages on, spurred by brilliant masses and half-hidden desires.

Kelly refers to this collection as containing “something for all sexes.” There just might be as much Freud as funnies in these sexy cartoon antics. Amateur psychologists, get out your handy pocket guide and start interpreting.


Cincinnati CityBeat
March 21-27, 2002