Michael Kelly is a Northwest, mixed media artist. The figure is Michael Kelly's main source of inspiration, representing all that we are familiar with in terms of form, function and emotional narrative. In his work he aims to reflect energy and motion - to reveal the living aspects and true nature of his subject’s existence. He uses Matisse’s quote, "Inherent truth is disengaged from the outward appearance of an object", as a key to the intent of his work.
His drawings are a spontaneous response to observed reality. Although he talks in terms of reality, it is not his intention to faithfully render the physical form saying, “It is a search for an internal reality that validates an object’s reason for being.” He explains that his work “is a process of discovery through deconstruction. This process allows me to dignify the presence of the subject that I am working from, rather than to characterize it. I maintain the aspect of the gesture in the approach to my work. This approach allows the drawing to live and to invoke a response.”
His mixed media includes graphite, crayon, pastels, oil sticks, china marker, oil paint, and printer’s ink on a high rag content paper or a clay coated paper which accepts oil-based media more readily. This choice of media enables dynamic mark making. He says, “Although I do paint, my work is more in the nature of drawing.” He describes his technique as a dance which is, “gestural in nature in order to retain the life of the composition. I work intuitively. I don't plan out a finished product. I don't begin in any certain way. The work is completed when it is resolved. Layering of media occurs only when it is called on in order to make a more complete and concise statement.” He considers a work to have achieved resolution, “when the communication has stated the objective in a coherent manner. When balance is achieved, the composition can go no further. A mutual understanding between artist and composition arrives, slowly, but surely.”
In this exhibition we show three distinct bodies of work. The central series depicts figure groupings. Of this series the artist says, “Being primarily an artist using the human form as subject matter, I began to reveal the dynamic of individuals gathered in a group who become united by something that they share. One series is titled “People In Suits”. This series shows a group as one entity. Although this entity is composed of individuals, their identity fades and has evolved into a singular object. This new entity now contains a different form of energy. The suits that each member of this entity is wearing is, basically, the unifying agent. I am not trying to make a statement about political or social order. I am making a compositional analysis based on something that is held in common, and in this particular series, it is the suits that are being worn. In another series, "The Third Person", the individuals retain more of their own identity, but are grouped in a forum atmosphere. This particular series was inspired by the recent impeachment hearings. Energy and motion are key elements in my work.”
Michael Kelly’s subject matter is primarily focused on the figure - the human form contextualized within the realities of the world. Other subjects have taken precedence because of man’s interaction with the object, animal or activity. He became interested in wolves and birds for their unique presence across cultures for thousands of years, and their appropriation into myths and folklore, to provide symbolic meaning.
It is that symbolic meaning that attracted the artist to the wolf. He explains that in many cultures the wolf use as a way of attributing the characteristics of strength, endurance, creativity, leadership, freedom, awareness, honor, strong will, and the roles of teacher or pathfinder. “Early mankind studied wolves and learned to live in groups in order to survive. One of the most misunderstood of all wild animals and near extinction, it is now, finally, being allowed back into the fold of nature. After being reintroduced to Yellowstone, wolves were solely responsible for transforming the entire ecosystem and bringing nature back into balance.” As for birds, he says “they are the bearers of prophetic messages and are signs of eternal life. They symbolize freedom and transcendence. More specifically, they represent the transition between life and death. They are, also, a bridge between the worlds: earth, sky, and water.”
Our relationship to horses has been more tangible, and is a subject the artist returns to regularly. “Horses have long been part of the human experience in work and play. Horse racing is a sporting event unlike any other. A 110 pound jockey aboard a 1500 pound horse traveling at 40+ mph takes uncommon strength for both horse and rider. It is an exciting display of energy and motion as well as the thundering sound of hoof beats as they travel past. The dynamic is of horse and rider united in purpose. The communication that takes place is unique. The relationship is symbiotic. An easy choice of subject. And a $2.00 bet adds to the excitement.”
After completing his associate degree in fine art, Michael Kelly followed an informal art education, concurrent with establishing his career as a practicing artist. Although he did not enroll in a degree program, his early standing in the local arts community afforded him access to University of Oregon’s arts department. He also attended master classes in painting, accredited through the University of Washington, taught by Nathan Olivera, Elaine DeKooning, and Jack Tworkov.
He established himself as a respected regional artist, was selected into many juried exhibitions and competitions, and in 1983 he was invited to exhibit in the Portland Biennial at Portland Art Museum. Despite this early success, a poor economy, the responsibilities of supporting a young family, and no alternative source of income forced a career break, and a move to LA to take alternative paid work.
Kelly was able to devote more time to his art when he returned to Eugene, Oregon in 1989. However, it was not until he moved to Portland at the turn of the Millennium that his circumstances allowed him to work in his studio on a daily basis. Throughout, he has maintained a profile through juried exhibitions and competitions. His work has been represented in national and international competitions throughout the United States and he has won numerous awards.