John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings John Kelly at Hallward Gallery

Although a regular presence in group shows, John Kelly is sparing of solo exhibitions, which perhaps has told against him. This new, and welcome, one is based on the Icarus theme, much treated by artists over the centuries, and by sculptors in particular. It runs the gamut of nearly sixty works, mostly watercolours and drawings, almost inevitably one facetious viewer has privately named the result Icarus Allsorts.

One aspect is visible straightaway – Kelly has not treated the subject portentously or reverentially.The Icarus legend is an obvious vehicle for morals about hubris, of vaulting ambition which overleaps itself, of human aspiration soaring and falling, etc. Here he is often seen as a broken and slightly ridiculous puppet, jerked about on wings and strings, a circus figure rather than a mythic hero. It puts you less in mind of the Homeric world than of Fitzgerald’s Flying Machine.

Certain of the drawings made me wonder if Kelly had not taken a leaf or two from Leonardo’s many diagrams on flying, or his intricate but abortive studies for flying machines (and Leonardo, in some respects, was an Icarus-like figure). Bur there is also a Chagall-like vein of fantasy, and as well a delicate, understated, almost fairyland quality. There are a few oils, which do add weight, but Kelly seems most at ease, and most himself, in his own special use of graphic media.

Brian Fallon, The Irish Times, 21.05.1996