John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Works Icarus

The lovers of prostitutes
Are satisfied, awoken.
Look at me, arms broken
Hugging cloud as substitutes,

Those fantastic stars, the ones
Which blaze from the skies’ depth,
Have blinded me till I am left
With only memories of suns.

I’ve tried to estimate
In space, where end and centre lie.
Beneath an unknown burning eye
My wings melt and disintegrate.

Burned by the beauty I crave,
I don’t have the sublime bliss
Of putting my name on that abyss,
Which will serve as my grave.

“Icarus’ Lament” from Ulick O’Connor’s “Poems of the Damned” translated from Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal”

This poem, which prefaced the catalogue for the 1986 Hallward Gallery Icarus exhibition, encapsulates the story of Icarus, expressed visually in John Kelly’s series of paintings and drawings. A friend recalls how, when John was working on the series, he would talk about Icarus’ journey, speculate about where he landed, what happened to him.

On the landing outside John’s empty studio, the hand-painted wooden Puppet, model for the Icarus Puppet series, sat, lonely and abandoned. The works speak for themselves.

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