John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings John Kelly at Project

John Kelly must be one the most self-effacing figures on the Irish Art Scene; for years his pictures have appeared regularly in group shows, usually to be overshadowed by more strident works. His current show of pastels in the Project Arts Centre is, therefore, all the more welcome and places him, once and for all, in the front rank of Irish artists.

Kelly can hardly be rated as one of our “younger” painters although he has generally chosen to associate himself with this group. This is his fourth one-man show; the last was ten years ago in the “old” Hendriks Gallery. At that time he had already earned a MacAuley scholarship and his work was highly developed and powerful. Large, religiously orientated, the paintings had rich, pastel tones with stark, black outlines. The conflict between the soft colours and the harsh line gave the works a terrific tension that was almost uncomfortable to view.

Since that time Kelly has allowed a more lyrical quality to gradually take over until now, when his forms emerge, shimmering, from the canvas. Sometimes, in his larger works, one misses a certain solidity, but in his smaller pictures, he pure lyrical quality is enough to make them remarkable.

In this show Kelly chooses to confine himself to smaller works, all in pastels – with tremendous success, he handles the medium beautifully, getting an almost watercolour quality into most of the pictures. The subjects are simple and varied; clowns, landscapes that are almost abstracts, figures in interiors. Each picture has such individual quality that it must be surely impossible to take in the whole show at one visit. These are pictures to return to again and again. They are continually rewarding as Kelly’s line, texture and colour never lets him down – there is probably not one bad picture in the show. It was good to hear that, after the opening, most of the works had been sold, Kelly is modest, so are his prices – he deserves to do well.

Stuart Baker, Hibernia, 11.09.1970