John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings A Name for the Ranks of Genius

Pastel Drawings by John Kelly: Project Arts centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin

When time makes its remorseless selection of our artists, I think it will be certain that John Kelly will be sure of a permanent place in the record of Irish genius. This is no lighthearted tribute; no temporary enthusiasm or no frivolous acclaim.
My view is not unique, and the steady sale of his work over the past few years – he finds it hard to keep enough together to mount exhibitions – is proof that others share it.

His present show at the Project is a measure of his quality and the prices are remarkably low, ranging mainly in the £12 to £25 categories.


He combines a finely-honed talent and trained skill with an incredibly sensitive intuition. The method is modified by the intent and the intent by the method. The results are striking.

The present exhibition consists of small works in which the human figure is set vaguely and without definition in aesthetic environments. “Clown”(£12), for instance, is a precise and formal gesture which triggers off a ripple of one’s sensibility.

Beside it an area of blossoming, delicate green proclaims a contrast which makes electric the major subject.


His semi-abstract work never makes the mistake of striving for pure form and all he does generates and organises our associations into fresh and significant patterns. Each pastel is re-charged for our viewing when we return to it.

There is a superficial delicacy in all he does which, like all-over armour, conceals the strength beneath.

He uses Turneresque light with considerable effect and like the English artist he makes it both radiation and subject.

Emotionally, he conjures a melancholy universe in lyrical terms that do not ultimately disturb. It is the melancholy of compassion and humanity and, degraded and eroded though the word may be, one must concede to most of his pastels the quality of beauty. It is an inadequate term, but sometimes it is the only one.

When the new Arts Council comes into being during the next 12 months, one hopes that it will encourage artists like Kelly and concepts such as the Project. No doubt, with fresh direction and a new dynamic, we can be certain it will do just that.

Anthony Butler, Evening Press, 03.09.1970