The provocative super-graphics
of Kevin T. Kelly
By Jud Yalkut
With the exhibition of the “post-modernist pop style” graphics of Cincinnati artist Kevin T. Kelly, the Dayton Art Institute deserves great credit for its integrity in mounting this show that runs through December 11. In a first for the DAI, large signs at either end of the Regional Artist Gallery exclaim, “Sexually Explicit Material That May Not be Suitable for Younger Visitors.”
Kelly, initially trained as sculptor, has produced images for the last 13 years in a neo-pop style that imitates the precision of the comic-based images of Roy Lichtenstein and the anonymous nudes inhabiting the interior spaces of Tom Wesselmann. A graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he now works as an adjunct professor, Kelly has ironically named this exhibition, “Stasis Quo,” as he parodies gender roles in a post-9/11 world while referencing the squeaky-clean advertising havens and comic cliches of the past 50 years of American history.
“For me, art should be made for strong eyes,” Kelly has stated, and that is certainly true for many of the images included in “Stasis Quo.” Using nudity, dysfunctional relationships, and the sex act itself, his images fulfill what he calls “a veritable assault on the senses, both viscerally and cerebrally… seductive, cynical, even humorous, but always deadly serious in its intent and execution.”
Even in the non-sexual compositions, there is an edgy sense of danger and destruction, as in “The Infidels” (2004), where a couple - he driving in his green sports hat and she leaning her yellow-blonde head on his shoulder - seem to be blissfully escaping an exploding background of oranges and yellows that may contain a mushroom cloud.
This driving motif reverberates in “The Occidental Tourists” (2004), with the man in a blue hat and overcoat - a striped muffler tossed around his neck- and the blonde woman with her green, knotted scarf. Their open-mouthed, ecstatic faces seem almost oblivious of the giant background tableau behind their vehicle of a copulating Japanese couple whose traditional robes complement rather than conceal their graphically portrayed, conjoined genitalia.
This is strong stuff indeed, and while this is the only work so potently graphic, other images portray the sexual act either as a thematic subject or interpolated into background designs. “War Bonds” (2005) contains a copulating couple - he on top and she with her legs bent, their hair portrayed in the stylized black with blue highlights of super hero comics - asa gray airplane tail passes overhead and another plane in purple silhouette explodes orgasmically in a stylized burst of outlined smoke curves.
Exploding planes are another recurring Kelly motif, as in “Suburban Blight” (2005). A military craft with a flaming wings descends into suburban trees as a gray-suited man carrying his brown attaché case leaves an impassive half-nude woman in a diaphanous, poof-fringed nightie in a blue doorway.
Japanese and American planes engage in dogfights, dropping flaming smoke and cylindrical fragments above a bow-tied man lighting his cigarette with a match while being observed by a red-dressed blonde resting her head on her hand below her red pillbox hat in “War Stories Are Hell” (2004).
Kelly’s technique is immaculate, with clean lines and flat colors in an intentionally slick style. He has always considered “the process of drawing as a means to an end, rather than the end itself” and sees it as “a state of refining.” His crisp style is is achieved by “drawing with tape” and cutting masks with an exacto knife while in the process of painting, which produces an almost manufactured look enhanced by a final coat of varnish - almost mimicking the effect of a graphic silkscreen.
In “Art Lovers IV (The Home Office)” (2004), the orange-red outlined male, head out of the frame, penetrates a woman clothed only in stockings and high heels lying on a desktop before a Venetian-blinded and billowy-curtained window. The gentler, small “Taste Test (Study)” (2002) has a middle-aged man with gray temples holding three color swatches in his hand before a framed landscape held by a woman in a magenta dress suit, as if asking, “Does it match the décor?”
“Modern Romance” (2001) has a couple in large close-up before a blue-on-red background of a woman leaning over in rear coitus with a man -almost an afterthought- as the leading couple have thought balloons above their heads, she with “a couple kissing” and he with “a hand around a dog’s muzzle.”
“Grandma’s Cooking” (2002) adds additional spin as the close-up of a bespectacled old man in a yellow shirt with orange shadows, dreams of a stack of pancakes and syrup while his female companion dreams of a nude woman descending upon a man who holds her waist, reflecting two different tenors of sensuality.
The large, curving wall of the Regional Artists Gallery displays numerous smaller works, many of which are are studies or sketches for larger works in “Stasis Quo.” One can see studies for the Oriental erotica of “The Occidental Tourists” as well as prismacolor and acrylic studies for “Suburban Blight” and other approaches to the meticulous working out of themes before their larger execution.
Dayton City Paper
November 9-15, 2005