John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings Young Painter’s First Exhibition

John Kelly, who had his first exhibition of paintings at the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, at present is a young man who works during the day as a house-painter and attends evening classes at the National College of Art. His entire exhibition – of 29 paintings – is devoted to religious subjects, and there can be no doubt of his sincerity.

At the moment, his feelings are a bit too strong for his talent, which perhaps is a good fault. Certainly it is better than having a talent which is very highly developed and nothing to say. His creative faculty has far outstripped his critical faculty, which is another good fault, for if it had been the other way around, he might hesitate to paint at all. The result, however, is an exhibition of paintings that are uneven, often crude, sometimes vulgar, but against that, very often deeply moving.

He has a pure and natural instinct for colour; his “Via Dolorosa” with all its rich red palette and his “Crucifixion” (which echoes the same colour scheme) show courage and certainty in handling. But it is in his smaller paintings that he really touches a vein of direct simplicity which is irresistible. “The Journey”, with its straight, direct colours and simplified drawing – reminiscent, in a way, of a stained glass window – is probably the finest picture in the show, although “Adam and Eve” has subtlety, and there is a wonderful selection of carefully contrasted greens in “The Denial”.

This is a most interesting show, and if Mr. Kelly appears to be trying to run before he can walk, at least it is better than not trying to run at all, and much better than learning – as so many young artists do – to walk stylishly.

G.H.G., The Irish Times, 27.04.1957