John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings Religious Art

While there was a large gathering at the opening of the exhibition of religious paintings by the young Dublin artist, John Kelly, they could hardly have suspected that Rev. Donal O’Sullivan, S.J., would make verbal attack on certain features of religious art in this country. Apparently the downfall of religious art started some 400 years ago with the school of Raphael, who could produce by the yardstick good quality religious paintings which, however, lacked in sincerity. Father O’Sullivan, who is a member of the Arts Council, said that religious art in this country, with very few exceptions, was worse than poor. Most of the art in churches, he said, instead of helping people in their devotions, must hinder them, due to their complete lack of strength. There is the well known story of Beau Nicholson’s little daughter who, when asked what she painted, replied: “First I think, and then I paint my think”. This would not seem to apply to the art found in some of our churches. John Kelly, a young man with plenty of courage, is a house-painter by trade who studied art but for a short time. During the summer months he devotes all his time to painting pictures. Sometimes he makes a trip abroad taking his bicycle with him. It was obvious that with Father O’Sullivan it was a question of “present company excepted” because all the 39 paintings in the Ritchie Hendriks gallery have the sincerity of “think” which he seeks in good religious art. From the point of view of technique, perhaps, Mr. Kelly has something more to learn, but otherwise the foundations are there for the making of a great artist.