Let's Talk about sex (or Not)
Cincinnati artist uses racy images to
examine gender roles
By Ron Rollins
Considering that we’re surrounded by sex, from bare-bellied teen fashions to the skirt-hiked plots of movies, books and TV shows, we really don’t seem to think about it all that much. Sure, we think about doing it -but we we really don’t, as a culture, devote much consideration or conversation to what sex means: How it can affect and alter our relationships; how it can define who we are; how not having it can be as important as having it. In other words, the grown-up, difficult part of dealing with it. The stuff they mean when they say that the most important sex organ is the brain.
Kevin T. Kelly doesn’t have any problems with these questions or concerns. The Cincinnati artist boldly takes sex and its various issues as his subject matter in a series of new and recent paintings on display through December 11 at the Dayton Art Institute’s Regional Artists Gallery.
The gallery is located in a lower-level corridor that currently is marked with signs warning visitors that Kelly’s art contains graphic sexual material - and they’re right about that (the DAI reports no complaints about the show thus far, which opened on September 17).
But Kelly’s work is also hilarious funny. Typical is 2005’s Club Lust, in which hubby lovingly caresses his golf club while his negligee-clad wife sits in bed with a disgusted, chopped-liver look. Nearby is Grandma’s Cookin’, in which an older couple sit together with beatific smiles. He’s thinking of her pancakes. She’s thinking of a vividly painted act between adults that we cant describe any further here.
The notion of women’s desires being frustrated by men dully not getting it runs through a lot of Kelly’s work, often aggressively so. In The Minotaur’s Comeuppance, a man who’s been unable to perform in bed retreats to a corner, while a football ref calls a penalty on - who else? - his partner, who doesn't know what she did wrong.
As with nearly all of Kelly’s paintings, there’s a lot going on in the frame to react to, none of it subtle - the nudity, the comic addition of the ref (who reminds one of those Miller Lite beer ads all over the tube), the lively background (a space Kelly usually fills with some sort of related imagery that propels the story line) and the style.
Ah, yes, the style.
Kelly employs a vivid, almost fluorescent palette of screaming colors, which he combines with a comic-book style strongly reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s famous Pop Art. He blends 1950’s fashions, commercial art, old television shows, World War II bombers, and old-fashioned visual slapstick - usually all in the same painting- to make his many points.
Other paintings poke fun at gender roles, suburban life, cultural perceptions of what’s right, wrong and appropriate - in some cases, mixing all those topics together in bizarre and amusing ways.
A business-suited husband runs out the door to work, Dagwood-like, as his sexy, nearly nude wife looks on in boredom; across the hedge, a plane crashes and explodes. A man proudly presents his wife with a keen new present: A new handgun of your very own, Honey! A couple thrash and grapple on a desktop surrounded by paintings on the office walls. The title? The Art Lovers. Bad pun? Sure, but so what?
Kelly may be out to provoke, but he does so with a wry grin and a wink-nudge elbow in the ribs. Check your inhibitions at the gallery door and let yourself be nudged. We’re all adults here, right?
Dayton Daily News
Sunday October 9, 2005