20 - 31 January 2021

Gibbons and Nicholas is pleased to present Marty Kelly’s AEROPLANES, an exhibition of new work. Within the show there is also an installation of small works on paper ‘Show me how to throw a wheel’, which has been added to over the last three years, evolving from the themes of family, death, birth, home and life. This exhibition is exemplary of Kelly’s sublime response to observations made from the world around him.


His internalised, cross-referencing inspiration is emphatic across the exhibition. It is visible through the layered re-working, the mixed marks of pastel, charcoal, paint and fingerprints and also the convalescent scraping, rubbing and buffing. Kelly does not use models for his work, they are often made from spending time with people. These pieces are a sort of trans generational portrait of fleeting moments of profound significance. The intersection between recent memory and memory flashes of his childhood, the children now and his parents as children. Kelly’s previous work has been greatly informed by his response to media coverage of migrant events and his time spent with asylum seekers in the UK and Calais. Within his 2011 exhibition ‘Lesser known birds of paradise’ the work focused on the faces of the people he connected with. In 2019, ‘There’ll be no bloody bluebirds’ at VUE in the Royal Hibernian Association Gallery, depicting crude figures and allegorical birds, was also informed by the European migrant crisis. The reverberations of the artist’s experiences were clear in both.


For this newest body of work, created within the context of a tumultuous 2020, Kelly has retreated to a subject matter less blatantly evocative, less conspicuous, more every day. This adaption has allowed the exhibition to explore a truly euphonious form of expression and subsequently, the work has become more harmonious in its consideration of the human condition. Kelly has succeeded in bringing his practice closer to the output and process of poetry. The silver faces and enigmatic sketches are subtly industrious in their ongoing consideration and observation of the human experience within this new context. The intimation they produce is poetical and mellifluous. The ethics of activism exist within the work, but rather than oration it is more akin to a lyrical persuasion towards understanding and empathy.


Carrying on his exploration of identity and connection as in the earlier practice, this new series continues to emit a celebration of individual and communal bravery. It ameliorates the status of its subjects through recognition in paint. Working in North West Ireland, from his hometown, now he explores the more obscure challenges of being human. The delicacies of everyday life and the bravery in the daily challenges of being alive. Like poetry, the meaning is enigmatic rather than concise, it is diffused through the mood, tone, inclination and rhythm of the work. This exhibition is celebratory of ordinary people and their connections with each other. He demonstrates a subtle sensitivity to the human experience which materialises in a delicate, ephemeral and calm manner. There is acquiescence of the reality of human life on all levels and a perceptive, shrewd awareness that each individual’s lived reality deserves celebration, respect and connection. The bleak beauty, the simple lines, the austere palette and the candid shapes celebrate a strength in the mundane. There is a stoicism in the characters as they represent the survival of everyday, they personify Eavan Boland’s ‘Habitual Grief.’ Whether asylum seeker or Donegal child, we all have our own battles, and this is the essence of human nature, of knowing, of loving, of sharing and feeling.


Kelly’s figures have always carried the enchantment of Donegal’s northerly tenor, the bleak Irish beauty and the poignancy of Ireland’s cultural pathetic fallacy. These latest works, produced in that very place, maintain some of the mournful, misty colour palette of West Donegal. The plaintive countenance in the work has an incandescent beauty. Particularly in the pieces like ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Birdhouse’, where you can see the thickness in the air, laden with moisture, sodden with the heavy dampness of the west coast. Again, it harks to the words of Boland, “…we love the fog because it shifts old anomalies into the elements surrounding it, it gives relief from a way of seeing,” Kelly’s work too affords us this new way of seeing. There is something of elegy within the faces, like a visual lament. They are hauntingly nostalgic of Irish folklore, the mystical stories told with the purpose of justifying and explaining human condition and its connection to the natural world. Pieces such as ‘Mountain Folk’ and ‘King and Queen’ appear like a pictorial Keening - an atonal array of primitive sounds sung for lost souls and sorrow - often mentioned in Irish literature. However, the recognition of sadness and melancholy are not intended in a negative sense, but as tools for appreciating the small idiosyncrasies of life. There is joy in the work, both in its beauty and its playfulness, but also in the twinkling motives of golden crowns, a ruby red sky, or the efflorescent glow of a crescent moon. In these intricate moments the work embraces and cherishes the medial commonalities of human life, tracing them, through art, to create connections. Although we are all faced with overarching ideologies and global circumstances, it is important to remember and celebrate the inner details that entangle our individual lives, moments of joy, familiarity or mortality. It is within Kelly’s ability to identify these shared treasures that we feel the interconnection to his previous oeuvre with asylum seekers as subject. Kelly’s work removes status and circumstance from his characters. He illuminates them as people, as human, elevating them from their pre-existent epithet.


Kelly works in a way that is uninhibited and idiosyncratic, his materials range from mixed media, on panel or canvas to expressive painting in oil and the dynamic drawing of lines, patterns, creatures and figures in crayon and pencil. Like the work of Rose Wylie and those who pushed away from figurative realism before (the illustrations of Philip Guston and Georg Baselitz come to mind), Kelly’s work employs a graphic simplicity. There is a confidence gained through his informed contextualisation within Art History and Kelly is comfortable in the crudeness of his depictions. Like those before, there is an active move away from painting what you are looking at; Kelly is painting who you are looking at. This ultimately delivers something much more acutely observed. Rose Wylie, an inspiration for Kelly, has spoken of letting the dust settle, there is something of this in his finished pieces and within his process of reworking, revisiting, pause and redaction. The work invites you to sit with something for a while, as the artist has done, to not rush past or rush on with life, to take the time to make a connection to the see below the surface or the overarching appearance and to find a deeper meaning and connection beneath. By Pamela Lee


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