Robert Kelly (artist)
Kelly was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and studied at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (B.A. 1978).
His paintings have been acquired by public and private collections in Europe and the United States, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; Smith College Art Museum, Northampton MA; Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutger’s University, NJ; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery; The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA; The Margulies Collection, Miami, FL; and the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX.
Kelly has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and Nepal. His work often incorporates unusual materials from his journeys, among them vintage posters and printed antique paper, obscured and layered in saturated pigments on a canvas faintly scored with irregular grids. Kelly’s paintings have been likened to palimpsests and his method described as one of building “meticulously on inhabited ground, layering materials, documents, and signs, covering them, wiping out their beauty, nearly, but allowing something of the labor and their languages to persist.”
Like his artworks, Kelly's New York studio, which was featured in New York Cottages & Gardens, expresses an informed eclecticism. “Furnishings include a range of mid-20th-century and contemporary pieces, including chairs by Poul Kjaerholm, Eileen Gray, Marcel Breuer, and Piero Lissoni. They contrast beautifully with rough-hewn wooden antiques, including an old drafting table...and a New Mexican cottonwood workbench from the early 1800s. Rugs are tribal, from Africa and the American Southwest. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of artwork on view and even more books—shelves upon shelves and multiple stacks of them. The orderliness of the space perfectly correlates with the linearity of Kelly’s canvases.”
Kelly worked as a commercial photographer for Polaroid in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and completed residencies at The MacDowell Colony and The Károlyi Foundation, Vence, France, before devoting himself entirely to painting in 1982. His work has been the subject of more than forty-five solo shows at venues in North America and Europe, including Spazio Bianco/AR Contemporary Art, Milan, Italy; Leslie Feely Fine Art, New York; and The John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California. He has participated in more than one hundred group shows in the United States and abroad.
Kelly is represented by Leslie Feely Fine Art, New York; The John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco; James Kelly Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico; AR/Contemporary Art, Milan, Italy; and Galleri Weinberger, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Robert Kelly’s influences include the De Stijl movement, Malevich and Mondrian and modernists like Bauhaus, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Philip Guston, Richard Diebenkorn, Kurt Schwitters, Blinky Palermo and Brazilian Neo-Concretists Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica. Kelly himself cites Hans Arp, Myron Stout, Tony Smith, Brancusi, Calder, Bill Traylor, Louise Bourgeois, and Ellsworth Kelly.
Reviews and commentary
“Kelly compares his work method to the practice of a stonemason building a wall, setting the components in place as they rise with an astuteness and precision found in the process of composing formal puzzles. Addressing the full expanse of a canvas covered entirely with paper, he masterfully builds up his surface with the pared down tools of line, form and color. Given their remarkable elegance, sheen and tactile qualities, the paintings invite drop-dead awe.” Edward Leffingwell, Robert Kelly: Paper Trails
“In these works the sophisticated play between translucency and opacity, representation and abstraction conflates past and present—be it the history of art or of a psyche.” Hilarie M. Sheets, Art in America
“[His] process yields the self-sustaining and harmonious ‘rightness’ of so much of Kelly’s work, a sense that each form could never be other than it is; were it sharper, more obtuse, or thicker, each angle, curve, or horizontal band would collapse into formlessness. Kelly’s compositions are held in such perfect moments of balance...” João Ribas, Robert Kelly: Praxis and Poesis
“The works are paradoxical: by disassembling and then reassembling the pieces, Kelly seems to undermine visual ‘completeness’ by a fragmented presentation. Yet it nonetheless feels as though the image is a cohesive whole.” Melissa Kuntz, Art in America
“Confronted as all artists are now with the exhaustion of subjectivity, Robert Kelly insists on the capacity of painting to mediate subjective apprehension through symbolic forms and sensual experience. Nothing less.” Lyle Rexer, Robert Kelly: Painting’s Place
“Robert Kelly’s art is exemplary. It reveals an intelligence that is as alert and modern as one could wish but is at the same time saturated in the knowledge of other times and places.” John Ash, Robert Kelly: Painting History
- John Berggruen Gallery. "Artist's Page".
- Ash, John (1995). Robert Kelly: Selected Paintings 1991–1995. Linda Durham Contemporary Art.
- Rexer, Lyle (2000). Robert Kelly: Recent Paintings. John Berggruen Gallery.
- Lassell, Michael (March 2014). "Inside Painter Robert Kelly's Bowery Studio". New York Cottages & Gardens.
- Leffingwell, Edward (2010). Robert Kelly: Paper Trails. Spazio Bianco.
- Kelly, Robert. "Artist's Statement".
- Sheets, Hilarie M. (March 2009). "Robert Kelly at Leslie Feely Fine Art". Art in America.
- Ribas, João (2005). Robert Kelly: Recent Works. AR/Contemporary Gallery.
- Kuntz, Melissa (February 2004). "Robert Kelly at Linda Durham". Art in America.