John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings John Kelly at Bank of Ireland

John Kelly’s touring exhibition, under the aegis of the Arts Council, has been travelling through various centres and is now in the Bank of Ireland exhibition hall in Baggot Street, Dublin. It is called “An Artist’s Notebook” and, slightly surprisingly, the works are in watercolour, with collage added in some cases. I say “surprisingly” because in recent years he has worked mainly as a printmaker. Earlier in his career he was known strictly as a painter, often of religious subjects.

At any rate, much of the ideas and motifs of the graphic work seem to have been carried over into these works. This sometimes involves a kind of cursive, scribbled, almost graffito-like calligraphy, and at times the look of an ancient manuscript yellowed and spotted with time. But there is also a certain amount of religious imagery, including one particularly tender head of the Virgin – two of the works are actually entitled “Crucifixion Shape” and “Good Friday”.

Kelly has also raided some of the Renaissance masters for his imagery – chiefly Leonardo, it would seem; he also takes a theme or to from Rembrandt. But there is no sense of parody and there are no obvious gimmicks, in fact the tone is meditative and the effects are generally delicate and subdued. As a whole, the works make so effective a sequence or combination – has the artist by any chance been thinking of Rouault’s “Miserere” sequence? – that it seems almost a shame that they should be divided up.

John Kelly is not an artist who makes headlines, but he is respected by his fellow-artists for his craftsmanship, his professional industry and his lack of pretension. Collectors, too, are aware of him. He does not have any great range of ideas or invention, but arguably he does not need it; it is not the themes that count with him, it is the skill and subtlety of the variations he can play on them. The exhibition is modest in scale and numbers, but the voice is individual; and it speaks with quiet conviction.

Brian Fallon, The Irish Times, 25.01.1985