Marty Kelly: Introduction

From the start, Marty Kelly was concerned with contextual aesthetics. The relativity of place and light was foremost to him in the portrayal of his early ‘figurative landscapes’ where built vistas and spatial surroundings were as implicit to his painting as the figures that occupied them. Kelly’s inherent understanding of colour and light enabled him to evoke a sense of place and mood through subtle variation and intensity of hues. His technical application was confident, direct and unfussed; forms were defined with a leanness of visible strokes and free of rendered detail. In particular, Kelly refrained from squandering light. He understood the power of light well and reigned it purposefully, communicating emphases – as well as intentional ambiguities. This sense of vague abstract concerns, hovering within the field of Kelly’s otherwise forthright elements of form, colour and marks, created an alluring dichotomy that added to the rhythmic quality of these early paintings. It also foreshadowed work that was to follow.

It was this synergy that set Kelly’s paintings apart, challenging much of the expressionist figurative painting that was being produced in Ireland at the start of the millennium. Born in 1979 in the town of Carndonagh, County Donegal, Ireland, Marty Kelly studied painting at the University of Ulster, Belfast. After graduating in 2000, his work came quickly into the public eye. His paintings began to appear in solo and group exhibitions by invite from galleries and academies in Ireland. Within a short time, attention in his figurative works moved outside his native country. A listing in ‘Who’s Who in Art’ , exhibitions in London and the presentation of his work in international art fairs soon resulted in a wide-spread and escalated interest in the work of this gifted artist.

This catalogue begins its review of Kelly’s work in 2005, the year the artist produced a body of paintings that was to reflect and define the basis of his investigations for the next five years: giving visual form to an embodiment of mind and spirit. Over the course of these years, Kelly traversed diverse territories, literally and metaphorically. His visual imagery began to draw from his personal reflections that were conceptual in nature. Beginning at home in Ireland and later in India, the Balkans and Spain he explored cross-cultural influences and concerns; he considered human responses to varying conditions and expressions of emotion. He experimented with new applications of paint and exacted new formats and forms to convey his ideas.

The culmination of these considerations is realized en masse in his most recent body of work that he produced in Barcelona in 2009. With former investigations stripped bare, Kelly formulates in this work the essence of ‘being’. Here he condenses the broad meaning ‘to exist’ to specific occurrences: the moments that surface between chaos, whether these may be chosen and joyful or, imposed and destructive; the unconscious gestural interlude of a dancer between exhilarating moves; the resurrection of spirit in a little smile between atrocities.

Throughout this body of paintings, Kelly’s fluid figurative forms and small open faces bare an enigmatic beauty that whispers of disquieting truths, of chaos on pause. Baudelaire saw in Goya’s ‘beautiful’ and ‘distorted’ figures, “a love of the ungraspable, a feeling for violent contrasts, for the blank horrors of nature and for human countenances weirdly animalized by circumstances.” Kelly in these paintings does not portray the vestiges of chaos; rather, he portrays the beautiful essence of being that remains intact despite circumstances.

The selection of Kelly’s work from 2005 to 2009 illustrated in this catalogue offers a visual window on a period of significant development for the artist. This catalogue also features a collection of critical essays and descriptive texts from six distinguished art historians, writers, lecturers, curators and critics who were invited to respond to the selection of work of Marty Kelly presented here. Dr Slavka Sverakova, Helen Carey, Dr Deirdre Mulrooney, Jane Eckett, Adrian Dannatt and poet Seamus Cashman offer their astute interpretations, perspectives and responses, with commentaries on the influences, concerns, imagery, technical development and consciousness that are perceived to have shaped Kelly’s work. Art historian Slavka Sverakova brings to her essay an additional perspective from her earlier critical writings on a body of Kelly’s work exhibited in 2004, and from her discourses with the artist.

It is hoped that together with the illustrations, the critical insights amassed here, formulated within the contemporary context that these works were produced, will provide a valuable understanding and appreciation of the artist Marty Kelly and his work from this period.

Jane Ross is a canadian writer and curator based in Dublin.

2 Theories of Art: From Winckelmann to Baudelaire,Volume 2 of Theories of Art, Moshe Barasch Edition2, revised, illustratedPublisherRoutledge,, 2000, accessed September 2009


Deirdre Mulrooney
September 09

Like the best of contemporary dance, Marty Kelly’s recent paintings exude a dreamy ambiguity – that stuff that exists in between the words. So it makes sense that he’s finding inspiration with a couple of contemporary dancers in Barcelona – bypassing the intellect to get straight to some visceral feeling and truth.

Far from his home on Donegal’s remote and windswept Inishowen peninsula, contemporary dance stopped wandering painter Marty Kelly in his tracks while he was travelling through Switzerland a few years back. Crossing paths with Quebec’s Dave St. Pierre Dancers was a revelation to him. “It was amazing to me. There was a connection between my work, our intentions, the common music we used and were inspired by, and the dancers”. Up until then Kelly had been travelling through places like Sarajevo in search of inspiration. After this serendipitous meeting, he began to find something matching “the incredible human spirit that lasts on and burns on in these conflicts” - the truth he wanted to paint - in dancers’ bodies.

Contemporary dance is all about getting back to a deep inner truth buried within the body. Was it the pure emotion of contemporary dance, unencumbered by words that drew him in? Had his eureka moment to do with the rawness, the strange, tough beauty which he felt, correctly, was “never allowing romance to fully overtake the reality, but elements of both”? For how can you do tutu’s after contemplating atrocities, and places of conflict as Kelly did in recent years? Far from the prettiness of Edward Degas’s limbering-up ballerinas, Kelly began to immerse himself in the more unlikely stuff that contemporary dance celebrates: “…the beauty in the awkward poses and the in-between. A moment before an action or a bowed head after a clatter of movement”.

Kelly began to work in his Barcelona studio with contemporary dancers Merryn Kritzinger, and Ygal Tsur – videoing them, photographing them, and painting them. They listened to his intentions, and to his music, and danced. (Kelly couldn’t imagine painting without music – at the moment it’s classical minimalists Max Richter, Johan Johansson, John Williams, and Nathan Larson).

It’s no surprise then that through that downright honesty of muscles, physical exertion, and the sweat of contemporary dance Kelly is right in there, into the non-verbal, and the eloquently visceral. Here, where there is no posing. Kelly rubs out faces, details, smudges them, and re-creates his models into floating, glunky, out-of-focus ethereal creatures. Essences. I imagine him distilling these essences out through their movement as if in some sort of alchemical filtering process. On his canvas then elphin and otherworldly presences emerge.

Just like the power of dance revealed itself to him in composer Johann Johansson’s collaborations with dancer Erna Omarsdottir, “exposed and raw and honest, sensitive and very real art”, this is beautiful work in flesh and blood from a sure hand and mind. Sure like the hand and mind of a dancer, perhaps.

So what do I see here of contemporary dance? The interiority of it; the “right now” of it; the velocity of it; the stubborn refusal to be just “pretty”; its contrary nature; its home in the ambiguous, fudged-up in-between; its dynamic energy - its vitality. Like in contemporary dance, the vagueness, and the moments of emptiness in these paintings, add up to an enticing open invitation to the viewer to project him or herself into the work of art.

By-passing head-energy, the intellect, the blah blah blah/ parler pour rien dire of words, Marty Kelly gets right underneath misleading externals to plug in to the power of the unspoken. Accessing the raw, visceral emotion of alive, pulsating bodies Kelly unleashes that power through these floating bodies, submerged bodies, bodies in transit, bodies in motion, and bodies without background. Harnessing the anarchic energy of contemporary dance onto his canvas, in his latest work Kelly accesses and conveys a rich and yes, incredible human spirit. That sort of thing is elusive, but through his strategies Marty Kelly has caught us a beautiful glimpse of it here.

Dr. Deirdre Mulrooney is the author of 'Irish Moves, an illustrated history of dance and physical theatre in Ireland', 'Orientalism, Orientation and the Nomadic Work of Pina Bausch' and is currently Visiting Fellow in Performance and Dance at the Graduate Institute of Creative Arts and Media, Dublin. She has lectured in Ireland's top third level institutions on Drama and is widely published and broadcast in the media on Arts and Travel.


Marty Kelly: smiling in the age of the smirk
Jane Eckett
August 2009

A strip parade of heads is fixed to the studio wall. Each head or, more precisely, each face – for the virtual absence of any modelling of mass and volume leaves us with an expanse of yellow and grey skin, with little sensation of an underlying skull – seems caught in a private, introspective moment. Faces that ostensibly look outwards towards the world, with open happy expressions, are paradoxically closed, aware of our scrutiny but unbothered by it, their sights and thoughts instead turned inwards on themselves. Facial features are lightly sketched in, often with a mere trace of black paint, beneath a layer of transparent skin, as though submerged in water. It is as if, in their inward gazing, their features had sunk below the surface, almost beyond sight.

Despite this blurring of features, we recognise these faces from a thousand glossy magazines with their endless photographs of anonymous models or interchangeable ‘celebrities’. Poses are struck: a chin is angled here, a head tilted there or, in the case of the full-length figures, an almost imperceptible hip juts one way, whilst a narrow pair of shoulders drop forward slackly, in an age-old expression of adolescent ennui. We believe, or at least we like to believe, that these poses are directed by the artist, just as in a magazine shoot they might be directed by a photographer or designer (…“just a little higher, now turn this way, yes, that’s it…”), yet each and every one of us already knows the score; even young children can strike a pose. By turning their faces and bodies to the camera’s lens or the artist’s eye, they acquiesce to our collective gaze, all in the name of money, fame or notoriety. These are the self-serving creatures of modernity presented in Kelly’s work.

This is our life, 2008, adds a light comic touch, particularly when contrasted with the painting’s rather more serious homage to Richard Diebenkorn, in the form of the candy-coloured stripes that enervate the background. A line from Trading Yesterday’s Love Song Requiem, ‘And maybe someday love’, is appended to one of Kelly’s most recent works: a full-length study of a benignly smiling male nude, with his cropped feet and scalp lending him the air of a hapless scientific specimen.

Why might Kelly – and why, by extension, should we – be concerned with these doe-eyed pin-ups and swimsuit models? How could a painting hope to compete with the sophisticated seduction of an Internet ‘pop-up’ ad? (If it moves, it must be eye-catching, or so the advertisers seem to believe). Is Kelly appropriating the imagery of music industry stars and fashion models and representing them in painterly fashion, in a classic post-modern trope, as if it were actually possible to adopt a position outside this system that allowed space from which to espouse some sort of moral condemnation? If this were the case, we could expect to register some slight disjuncture, such as a smirk, that might signal to us the fact that we are at once being ‘played’ and that we are knowing players in this game of doubling and double entendres. But in Kelly’s work we find no such Giaconda smirks – only wistful or even beatific smiles. These are smiles that evoke, by their mere presence, the existence of good, and such is their power that they prompt us, like shy strangers, to smile back in return.

Absurd though it may seem, it strikes me that Kelly is an abstract painter, albeit one who works in a figurative mode. This is not to say he is working against instinct; rather it is a case of him trying to register the experience of different emotions and, more difficult still, evoke these very same fugitive and abstract human qualities in us, the viewers. So how might be begin to understand Kelly’s form of abstraction? Let’s begin on solid ground, that is, with the matter of material. Art has always been, at base, a process of presenting materials: in the case of painting, it entails priming a support, applying paint – acrylic-based, oil or watercolour – and moving the paint with brush, knife or trowel, swiftly before it dries and sets. It also entails decisions to be made, even risks to be taken – do you allow that drip to remain, this line to diverge from its trajectory, that area of canvas to remain visible? How to present these materials? This is the artist’s daily fare. But of course, something more is at work. Panofsky called it kuntswollen, a term that simply will not translate; the ‘volition to make art’, might approximate, and yet it means more than this: it refers to an immaterial force that differentiates humble material from what we agree, in an act of communal hoodwinking, to call ‘art’. Interestingly, Panofsky located the role of colour as hovering somewhere between the concrete facticity of materials and the force of kuntswollen. On the one hand, colour consists of ground pigment, suspended in a medium such as linseed oil, that refracts lights differently according to its chemical properties – in this sense it is possible to define and quantify colour. But colour also lifts from the canvas like music, evoking different moods. The primary reds, blues and yellows of Kelly’s paintings sing out like a musical score, stirring feelings that range from glee to glum (his blue paintings are literally blue in atmosphere).

The musicologist and philosopher, Theodor Adorno, once said that it was barbaric, or nigh impossible, to write a poem after Auschwitz. It follows that it is impossible to express something as notionally simple as happiness. But of course, poets still write poems, painters still paint, and we all still attempt happiness by blocking out the horrors of the world around us, be it genocide or merely the quiet despair of the person standing next to us. Are we duping ourselves, settling for blinkered vision? Not necessarily. If happiness requires a state of mind that blanks out knowledge of pain, suffering and evil, and instead directs the thoughts to people, places and things that have positive associations (a few of my favourite things, desert islands etcetera), then it should be recognized, perhaps even celebrated, as an act of mental acrobatics: a self-willed delusion, a suspension of – not belief – but knowledge. In the place of knowledge we substitute emotion.

Similarly, Kelly’s paintings, which cry out their desire to convey emotion, to literally affect us, ask that we concentrate not on aspects of superficial mimesis – not on the pageant of naked bodies with their the submerged facial features, nor even the elegant drips or aqueous patches of colour – but rather, on the emotion they evoke. At times this emotion tends to be wistful, almost elegiac, as though a remembrance of happy times past. On other occasions the emotion is one of sufferance or endurance – people quietly resolved to survive against the odds of physical or emotional trauma. The sustained references to figures from popular culture may seem at odds with this abstract, emotive quality in Kelly’s work, but in fact aids to deepen the emotive resonance by way of contrast. They invite us to look past the flimsy constructs of fame and flesh, in order for us to realise the possibility for genuine emotions, real feelings, in this, the age of the smirk.

Jane Eckett is a doctoral researcher at the University of Melbourne. With degrees in both science and arts from the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney, she has worked in Ireland for the past nine years as a director of Whyte’s fine art auctioneers. In 2007 she completed a Masters by research at Trinity College Dublin after which she tutored in the history of Irish art and modern sculpture at University College Dublin.



Art is not the product of an angel, but the affirmation – and at each time the rediscovery- that all mankind are angels…but what a bitter taste the angel carries in their mouth.
Antonio Negri
Letter to Massimo on Beauty

An oblique trace of time, her face (and it is always ‘she’ as sure as time is feminine, they almost rhyme) turns away from the present to the past, her mirror, her window, her drift of shade or call it curtain granting a glimpse of what is surely sadness, the long tristesse of what is lost, what we are all always losing.

So art is a way of saving, preserving what otherwise must be abandoned, must slip away in the dim diminuation of our days, memory of course and also the beauty which was once ours, present before us, gift indeed, whether reflected in the long Venetian glass or staged in a slow striptease, shedding modesty as the steady shedding of our ballast of memories.

We have painting, we have this mysterious object, this rectangle of paper or canvas which as a physical thing resists for just that little much longer, perhaps with luck four score our own existence, maybe half a millenia, to travel through time in the wrong direction greeting as it goes all who come after and asking them each to spare a glance for what we once were, what we wanted, how we too ached.

What else is there ? There are these rooms we are now standing or sitting in, look around you, these rooms which exist like a stage set for our daily stupidities or miseries, here we continue, uncertain why or whence, to act out our obligatory wishes, the very walls planes worthy of some prison, existence as incarceration however gilded, golden.

And there is also darkness. The inherent beauty of blackness against which we stand corrected, the vastness, sheer enormity of a black night sky which is also a black galaxy without limit or logic, which is also the black of sorrow, the blackest of black mood, the black of inexistence, of sleep and everhereafter, beauty of black velvet, the drink, the thing, Goya.

Biblical to assume only darkness and light, “let there be etcetera”, but in the end (and we are all in the end only concerned with the end) that seems all we have left to play with. The day begins and casts its shadow in a Meditteranean diagonal waking us to the warmth which makes it all seem maybe worthwhile, giving pause to ponder, allowing a breeze which might as well be the sea, stone-cut window on the world, against which we must take our places.

Here we are akimbo, just maintaining our balance against the manifold forces set to topple us, tiptoe even, and for once it’s almost comic, almost circus time, the long stretch ahead of us, an exercise in futility which turns in turn funny. And when the night comes, when you head down the stairs into the cold vault without any touch of light, open your arms, extend all your limbs to embrace it, daring nakedness as its own protection against such bleak weather, bravely naked the way they once walked barefoot, so young and bold, to protest the politics of their own era.

In the bay of her, in the last vast chamber where she has always been sitting so awaiting the eternal return, in the back bedroom of her, in the recollection of her, in what you hardly dare admit is the smile of her, the simplicity of her, being there, having once been there, having slipped out of the side door not singing but humming, a slice of silence, the slippage of the years she’s seen, a slip of a thing, a slip, a thing.

As if ‘glaze’ and ‘gaze’ were aware of just how close they really are, knew that only one letter holds them apart, like the sheen of dust, wax of wane, varnish of the vanished centuries, the same cosmic dust which according to the most advanced of physics now covers everything we can imagine. It’s the layer between us and what was once also us, the gleam and glint of a subtle skin that wraps the world that was also ours not so long ago, we can still touch it but only through this translucent surface, this skein of hardened light. This way it will last so much longer, this way it will never be lost, this way we are sealed from our own souveniers, set off from our sensations, to admire them all the more as art.

There’s a sort of insomnia to all this, dead energy of stars. The way for years in Paris one could look up to see, all night long, the small square window of Cioran, grand Prince of despair, illuminated by his own extreme lack of sleep. For decades he was always there, only at night, every night, a sort of tourist attraction for the suitably tortured, never sleeping, presumably thinking, that bright high geometry. And then that window too went black, as a star’s light dies. Cioran, who was once asked what it was exactly that he did, “what do you do?” To which without pause he replied, “I submit.”

Submit. What we all must do, to time, to the days, the eternal nights and indeed to desire, our own desire and the desires of those we desire. Because really that is all there is, art and desire, or maybe they are even the same thing, and outside of those it’s a howling void my dear, or some sort of desert. No, it’s like when the actor walks off the stage set, through the rickety balsa wood door, and discovers nothing but a vast empty black galaxy, a sheer drop without dimensions, one foot poised above the freezing, silent abyss. And the actor hesitates, turns and goes back through the door to the warmth and security of the set, tea time again, drinks.

Desire. The excitement of being desired, being watched, presenting oneself, abasing even, in order to be all the more wanted, wanting to be wanted in that way, automatically assuming the position and extending it, out into time, space. How do we stop time? We make art, we enter into art, we let art look back at us as we look back at it, as with hands on head we glance at the eternal mirror, our witness, to make sure we are being watched even if it is against the rules. Oh there is also the bolt of opium, that antique poppy haze, allowing us to step off the train of time, alighting at some strange wayside station, but otherwise we are left with art and its urge along with the other urge of let’s not say lust but longing, to take us out of the everyday tocking of the clock.

Or in the words of that other Prince “Isn’t it supposed to take a long time?” And the longer the better, whether with palms pressed behind the back, or making triangles during corner time, eyes straight ahead, not moving, knowing you are being looked at all the time as a painting knows it is being looked at, knows it exists, resists, when watched so closely. To stand so long simply being stared at slowly awaiting what will surely start soon outside of the obligation to do anything else as the strength of a painting somehow exists aside from the artist who once made it, in itself as if always thus, only needing that brush to reawaken its essential existence.

Adrian Dannatt is an English actor and writer living in New York City. He contributes regularly to Flash Art, The Art Newspaper and other publications.



From the work of Marty Kelly, references leap out immediately and you wonder if you have known these works for a very long time – the cobalt blue and cadmium red of the childhood paint box combines with images that conjure up classical Greece or atmospheres we have known.

Marty Kelly is a painter who draws on his experiences of travel and the natural world. He comes from Donegal and from a family well versed in the understanding of the enriching role of Art in the in the individual’s life. On completing his studies in the University of Ulster, he gravitated back to his home town of Carndonagh, and began to reflect the strong landscape of his surrounds, clearly seeing the gorgeousness of the local colour through the lens of the Donegal light. The influences of Inisowen are acknowledged by the artist, and the Irish landscape tradition with their extraordinary palette, as embodied by Sean MacSweeney among other artists of the North West of Ireland, have a strong representative in Kelly, with his clearly defined colour blocks.

In this exhibition, the face and the figure are the central focus for the viewer. However, the openness of Kelly’s faces gives no comfort on which to anchor. Pulling in his training in graphics and illustration, Kelly uses the drawing line in a primitive and naive form that etches the face out of a solid mass. In I do not like your blood type (oil on canvas) the pale face is almost blank against a rich green colour background. The strength of this background and its pressure is rebuffed by the line of the face in a brutal manner. The face has a calcified look to it. These primitive line drawings bring the hieroglyph of cave drawing to mind as in the work I prefer to live in a world full of love (oil on canvas). There is an impression of relief as in an etching into a landscape more than a figurative representation. The work of Odilon Redon is recalled, with the intense detail within the blocks of colour around a slight drawing line.

In the other series of works here, Kelly moves between the blocks of expressionist colour, with tribute to de Stael, and the barely restrained fragile figures, with a tense connection to the background. Kelly uses the romance of contrast with the solidity of the colour block against the ethereal and insubstantial figure. This contrast is destabilising, challenging the viewer’s understanding of their focus and what it is they are seeing.

In the work Girl with Quiet Interior II (oil on canvas) the viewer is not sure what they see, and the eye takes a while to fix. This impact means that the viewer is still thinking of the painting after they move on, and can more than usually recall the composition. This is Kelly’s talent – to remain in the subconscious. When looking at the work which situates the viewer either on the beach, near a window, with figures seated or reclining, the imminent action contained in Edward Hopper’s work is recalled for me, of action just passed, of action about to happen. This work again celebrates colour with the palette both naive and rich. With the predominance of blue, there is a sense of fluidity and water throughout that recalls the artist’s landscape grounding. Another of Kelly’s acknowledged influences here is Matisse, witnessed in the work I prefer to live in an age of Love II. The movement, the figures and the depth of colour pay homage. The musical quality of Kelly’s painting is evoked often – how you keep a tune in your head is very like how the Kelly image stays in your head.

Kelly shows strong graphic mastery, his composition is mapped out and an understanding of the behaviour of paint is clear. He obviously loves the quality of paint and the tensions between the materiality of paint and the ethereality of the finished work are evidence of his painting every day. Kelly’s claims for his work are not around a message that is fixed. He wants the viewer to accept the insubstantiality of his world and see what they want within that – he likes the vagueness of the lines and swimming in his colour is an invitation to all viewers. However there are angles and sharp edges within, that mirror a landscape and the human experience.

Helen Carey is an independent curator and prtoject manager based in Dublin, Ireland, Former Public Art Project Manager for At-Bristol,Director of Galway Arts Centre, Ireland and Inaugural Director of the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. Helen currently works on Irish and international projects. Her specific interests are National Cultural Identity and the Public Sphere.


Marty Kelly 's light-ness of being.

(With an apology to M. Kundera and Italo Calvino)

It is his use of light that upholds the lightness of a touch of brush commanded both to cross the gulf between what is and what is not, and to avoid petrification, while insisting on stillness. A diligent and faithful accomplice of seeing, the light serves as an entry into a contemporary assembly of imagined encounters with painters of other times while exposing some aspirations about living now, about our senses and our cognitive power. The perceptual thresholds of Kelly s paintings have strength, energy and authenticity favoured by great painters since the fifteenth century. Kelly knows, loves and respects their work, but he is not an epigone, unless that word reverts to its original Greek meaning of being born after ( *1979). The stillness connects his work to van Eyck and Matisse, the positioning of a painted rectangle over the edge of the canvas (e.g. a window) has appeared also in paintings by Titian and Matisse, as well as in numerous examples of the Italian and Dutch renaissance and medieval paintings of interiors, e.g. Annunciation. The window disappearing over the edge is also favourite motif of Jan Vermeer. Art history offers rich range of compositional schemes, becoming a valuable tool for a modern painter. Kelly acknowledges his sources & I work from photography, drawings, the internet, film stills& . The less obvious is a source that cannot be seen. The painter admits: The most important thing for me, to be able to make a painting, is music. If I haven't got the right songs, I can't do it," he says. "I'm trying on a canvas to make somebody feel the way I feel when I hear the music. I wouldn't be much good without listening to music I don't want to actually paint one moment or one person's personality, it's more about conveying what I'm hearing and using a face or a body as a vehicle for that. I like the fact that the paintings are quite open and vague and you can take what you want from them. I'm not painting something realistically; I'm trying to capture the essence of something."

The essence of anything is not easily translated and captured. For thousands of years, in many cultures, the light served as a metaphor for religion (God is Light) and philosophy (Truth is Light). The phenomenon of light has been explored for its symbolic power and as a fundamental condition for life on Earth. Sciences investigate its characteristics, wavelength, speed, etc. Painting brings together the mundane experience of light and its cognitive and poetic constructive power. Merleau-Ponty emphasis on the ability of the painter to recapture, convert and make visible the vibration of appearances resonates through different modes and types of painting, abstract or not. The current exhibition displays numerous variants of both light cast from a source and light emanated from the tone of the hue. The cast light points to a recognizable source and makes highlights and optically correct shadows. The viewer cannot interfere with that part of the meaning. The emanated light can be anywhere, in all hues and tones, it throws no shadow, and invites viewer s imagination to figure out its meaning.
A number of Kelly s paintings embody the northern daylight, others favour the Mediterranean high, dry, hot keys. The choice is governed by the dominant idea of the painting. The theme of finding a point of stillness, tranquillity and escape from appearances governs all choices.
A comparison of Kelly s paintings made over the last five years reveals not only his power to fight the velvet of his talent, but also growing sense of self, of autonomy, of freedom. The role of light and of definition of form underwent a change towards expressive abstraction while holding on to recognizable genres: single female figure in an interior, dressed or undressed, and heads. Not quite abstract these paintings contain still lives, rooms, tables, chairs, portraits, nudes, dancers, swimmers etc. A correct anatomy is assumed and hidden in all figures and heads, remarkably, even in the single, almost liquid, line of an arm and hand in Particle II ,2007, (the choice of hue accentuates decay). It does not seem right to call them by names of genres, the figures are both nude and dressed, the heads have some portrait traits, the still lives are made of objects, yet, they all break out of those boundaries. Given the painter s focus on essences, the inclination is to call them poetic phenomena, poetical paintings. These paintings share some features with phenomenology, which conducts research guided by opposition to naturalism, objectivism and positivism and by reflective approach to knowledge and evaluation. In addition, they are translations of music into a visual force. I need to digress here into art history for the idea of music and abstraction emerged around 1910. In a rare interview, given in 1937(first published in 1955) W. Kandinsky(1866-1944) stated: I sensed the unparalleled expressive power of colour. I envied musicians, who could create art without narrating anything realistic . Colour, however, seemed to me just as expressive and powerful as sound. Kelly steps in almost a century later with a causal link, making sound a necessary condition for colours to make sense, confirming the equivalence of the two. The question arises, after a century of abstraction, abstract expressionism, and conceptual art, has the idea still a future? In answering, I am happy to quote one of the best thinkers in the field, Donald Kuspit: Nonetheless, pure abstract art will endure, in part because it keeps alive the idea of quality or of the possibility of quality in an art world that is all but indifferent to it. Quality may in fact be a dead idea. It is certainly beside the point of all the ideological/advocacy art around. Pure abstract art will also endure because there will always be a human need for a separate, seemingly sacred space if only in the metaphorical form of art in which one can find sanctuary from the swindle of the world, as Adorno called it, and recover a sense of what it means to be, in all one s uniqueness.

It takes a great deal of courage to work within that field of ideas. Kelly chose the route taken by those who combined recognisable and abstract forms (e.g. W DeKooning) and focused on the metaphorical function of female figure, like, for example, romantic poets.

The light has both modelling and metaphorical role in Memory is slight, 2005. A calm daylight keeps the blue colour in its meditative state in the interior, and from the outside, the slabs of hot orange descend on the woman face and arms. The blue hue effortlessly and clearly defines the diagonal composition from left to top right. Two types of ambiguity threaten to split its continuity. The first of them calls for rational analysis by question and answer. Is the blue on the seascape in the top corner real sea behind a window, or is it a seascape painted on a paper attached to the wall? The answer is given by optics and a tiny blue dot in lower corner looking like a pin holding the painting in place. There are no highlights coming from its direction, as they would be if it were a window, a source of light. It suffices to look at another window as a source of light (Window II, 2005) with its highlights bleaching parts of the figure, which is incidentally almost identical with the one in Memory is slight. The highlights on the face and arms in this painting are related to the light coming from an invisible source placed outside the painting, in front left of the picture. The illusion of a seascape painting within a painting completes the task of destabilizing the certainty offered by geometry and anatomy. This is further attacked by merciless dematerialisation of volumes and surfaces by running paints randomly occupying body areas, like in a visual fugue, where each hue enters at different time and place. Easily overlooked, a small finger is optically cut off above the cranium by a hot highlight. Kelly s allegiance to essences and reflective thought accentuated it for a reason: it lies at the distance from the right hand edge that is equal to the painting s height, thus an optical knot cancels the opposite force. A geometrical solution to avoid split between the still live and the seascape is strengthened by a chord of blue in three distant places, the still life, the seat and the sea. Like a musician playing a chord the painter positions a chord of three objects to hold the running away melody of melancholy anchored. The slow rhythm of tones over tones on the wall markedly differs from the faster sequences of hues on the body, analogically to musical tempo of adagio and allegro. That moves that capricious little finger back in the centre of attention. A second type of ambiguity present in this painting is much more severe, it gallops to abstraction: the objects on the table have no names, no identification, except for thew one that carries an image of baby s face. The colours speak of elegy, sadness, solitude.

The above has established the main ingredients for the alchemy of Kelly s work: clear composition, ambiguity of cognition, purity of feeling captured in an analogy to music, single figure with some objects, both oscillating between certainty and abstraction. The light so powerful in sorting out ambiguities is going to be ambiguous itself.

In majority of the paintings completed in 2006 the source of light is absent. Instead, the emanated light of each hue and tone construct spatial differentiation. The composition moves near a snapshot, figures fill most of the rectangular canvases, and, in most cases, face the viewer. They spring out of far more diverse sources than before. The colours have a decidedly French accent, a reminder of Bonnard, Vuillard, and in particular, Matisse. Window,2005, mentioned earlier, already activated its red-orange wall to emanate light, but only as a second source next to the window. This dual strategy received a delicate re-working in Angelique I,2006. Her dress is modelled by the light in front of her, whereas the sitter s forehead, hands and one knee receive pink highlights from the wall. Emanated light is becoming predatory in Seated Figure, Yellow Wall . It de-materialises a half of the body and makes a lower part of one leg disappear altogether. The dark floor is lined in a manner familiar from Matisse s nudes and odalisques. Future development is predicted in a distinctly different composition and light of Figure with chair,2006. It has no defined source of light. The dark floor with blue table carrying a bottle and a cap reach the greyish wall from a high up viewing point. Just at the top edge a chord of orange and blue bars fails to connect to an object (It strongly reminds me of Matisse s sandwich boat in Open Window, Collioure, 1905). I hazard a view, that it may be also a reference to Arvo Paart, an Estonian composer. Marty Kelly listened to his music at that time. I have in mind his invention of tintinnabula music bells, which, for example in his Lamentate, toll an alarm against a Mahlerian funeral march . Lamentate is, apparently, Paart s response to viewing Anish Kapoor s Marsyas, who dared to claim to be a better musician than Apollo, lost and was flayed alive. Kelly s positioning of the two sonorous hues at the edge of the main story is like a response to a stimulus of a sound coming in. In 2006 the painter sent me images of his new work with an instruction listen to something like arvo part s cantus for benjamin britten (e-mail 17 October).

Sometimes, we listen to the same music. The 2007 paintings are, for me, the Lunz paintings, named after the music Kelly e-mailed to me together with some images. I responded in August 2007: Leaving out a heartbeat, the melody soars up, stops in an equilibrium (Lunz:Clue) and repeats while being embraced by the trembling muffled longing tune& I see relationships between music and Kelly s portraits and figure paintings (Lunz:Dew Climbs). To think just of two: elegy and the sublime& thinly painted layers. Like veils they wash over& without erasing the likeness. They are not evasive. Like in the Lunz music, two voices, two strong layers follow a common fate, and within it each their own. For a body of work exhibited that year as Post Memory at the Blue Leaf Gallery Kelly focused on the state of mind between alertness and loss of it, on daydreaming. Jane Ross wrote a highly perceptive essay at that occasion and observed: Kelly emulates the recessive state of daydreaming by creating a stark contrast between his figures portrayed in a vaporous manner and their opaque tangible surroundings. These two voices later on, in 2008, reverse the role of the figure and ground. The grounds in I thought we could make something beautiful and Watching for Horses(both 2008) are agitated by their role to emanate light. In one, like steam or fog the white hue seeps into the body of the sitter, in the other, her white garment stops the blue running on one side and sends puffs of white into the blue on the other. Dramatically dissonant are the ground and the androgynous nude in This is my life. The body bears scars, the face looks little like a death mask, the slabs of black, grey and blue, speak of abandonment in a wrong place. Immediate connection to Marlene Dumas starts a whole chain of related strategies. Where M. Dumas constructs the light from the shades of intimacy of dying, W. DeKooning from the heat of the rioting flesh and A.Giacommetti from his utter insecurity of perception, Marty Kelly connects the colours to the optics of the underwater realm, a conscious preference that made him unpopular: & (their) customers are scared of my watery portraits, muted mouths and homesick eyes& (email to me, 3 August,2007).

Positioned between the strategies developed by Marlene Dumas (e.g. Self-portrait, Evil is Banal, 1994, or Blue Marilyn,2009) and abstraction Kelly s paintings pull in both empathy and estrangement. Both painters employ disconcerting ambiguity, translucent colours, unfinished limbs, unspecified ground for portraits, overcorrection of outlines and incongruent random colour marks over described objects. Their paintings resist a description of painterly properties, equally. Both paint in the first person as if in agreement with W. De Kooning s claim that the subject matter of painting is the painting itself. Kelly s articulation of figures is in some cases so overlapped by dripping paint that they move optically into the depth of the background, which is usually painted as a calm area with fluent and fluid brushstrokes. Usually, there is a single object with them (a motif occurring in De Kooning s work too), an umbrella, a chair, a bottle, a table, a window. Resulting localised intensity imbues the figures with seemingly unlimited independence from the anxious interior (At least part of this anxiousness is born out of the paradox between the optical push towards the ground and the sensual pull of the hues in the opposite direction). Once Kelly applies his highlights, at times hot like molten lava, they fragment the body and its parts, splitting them from their anatomical anchors, letting them float by eroding the correct states, even if corrections of build up are never cancelled. The painting is allowed to keep its self-organised criticality, a state between stable existence and unpredictable chaos.

It is pertinent at this point to recall the new brain research; how the brain works is being understood little more because of the current techniques of imagining, e.g. MRI, PET etc. The research suggests that the closer we get to the boundary of instability, the more quickly a particular stimulus will send the brain into a new state. Lying at the critical point allows the brain to adapt to new circumstances. Art would appear a useful tool to exercise this particular process by engaging observation, attention and connectivity.

During the 2008 two new strategies appeared, not in the same painting: a move towards a group of figures and to treating a figure as a ground. The rows of undressed or scantily dressed figures hide their meaning even more than the rest. Kelly s titles are his personal reminders. I find them interesting on their own, but cannot use them to unlock the meaning of the image. I sense an escape in them away from the interpretations, away from the Other whose curiosity may be just vulgar. The visual clues are clearer to me in the series of heads e.g. The wonder of it all series. The portraits are drawn on two adjacent grounds that gracefully make space for one another. The job of capturing the likeness is bestowed upon most sparing line drawing. The light source moved into the painter s eye, intensifying the intimacy of the simple spontaneous gesture. Borrowing Matisse s thought about drawing I tend to see these heads as expressive gestures with an advantage of permanence. The gouaches offer softness and smooth transitions from figure to the ground and vice versa, a kind of harmony which will get soon replaced by images that delve into the prehistoric, primeval even.

This dramatic change affects both the subject and the way it is painted in 2009. It does not appear the case if only the surface values are considered: it is still a female body or a head, or groups, it is still an image of a figure on an abstract ground in the habitual rectangular format of a nude or a portrait. The figure - ground relationship lost its former agitated ambiguity, reminding me now more of Lucas Cranach s high key figures standing against dark ground soliciting your gaze. Except that there is no Cranach s sensuality nor an erotic charge.
These paintings unearthed some darker existential truths. As any painting worth its salt, they also refer to old anthropological concerns, who are we, why are we here, what are we supposed to do before we cross the boundaries of the earthly life. The emphasis is not any more on diversions into ambiguity or on sensuous pleasure evoked by the energy of colours, even not on the ecstasy of painting stillness. All Kelly s paintings focus on existential reality , a phrase applied by J P Sartre to A. Giacometti who also worked from models and painted heads from memory. Self-evident are the several images Kelly painted from photographs, e.g. Kneeling Figure with the Parasol, 2006, however, the de-materialisation of the body makes the image free of charges associated with its source. Giacometti s preference for a solitary figure in an interior as well as his compression of the space by pitching the floor upwards appear in several of the paintings, as do impenetrable faces, and heads not capable of talking. Giacometti holds his figures on the verge of extinction; Kelly grounds them, with some exceptions, in living. Attention is a rich psychological and neurobiological construct that influences almost all aspects of knowing about self, the other, and the world. Attention in painted image manifests as spatial integration. Kelly s enigmatic, slightly disturbing figures captivate the attention by, what Dumas called, Socratic dialogue. This is to free the image from the emphasis on subject matter and let the vibrating appearances walk in our mind. Kelly removes even the environmental context by painting the ground dark and by increasing the sense of abstraction and isolation of the recognisable figure. In Work in Progress I,II and III, the solitude, stripped of pathos, is to be inhaled for private contemplation. The thought is applicable to the paintings he made recently in his studio in Barcelona. In some way, Kelly returned to the idea of equivalency of ground and figure. The hues float over one another mimicking working of nature. At the time of writing I do not have the titles, only numbers for the eight most recent paintings. Head V is largest at 5 x 7 , the other six are all the same smaller size, 24 x 20 cm as is the group of five figures in a queue. It appears to me, that the second figure from the right is a male, a rare appearance since 2004. Otherwise the painter limits the images of female figures and heads. The significance of this choice is not immediately understood, I suppose, because of long well established tradition of female figure as a subject of paintings and sculptures since pre-historic period. Kelly s paintings differ from that tradition in that the image is secondary to a concept. The images could be similar or different to each other, borrowed from popular culture or so called high art, and none of it will make a status of some greater than of the rest. The significance of a female body (or a head) lies in its power to encode so perfectly The Other. There is a similarity between the young faces, yet, each holds its own significance. How is this possible? Only when the concept becomes a primary creative act, as described by Kelly in relation to the role of music: I paint what I feel when listening to music (my paraphrase).

Comparison between the most recent heads and Englar,2008, should make the above more accessible. In July 2008 Kelly suggested that we listen to Johann Johansson, naming Sun has gone dim and the sky is black as a specific composition. The concept thus was rooted in aural perception and imagination. Similar to Johansson s Englaborn the sound moves between melting melody and strict rhythmical cadencies with a haunting fuzzy logic. The painting has to make this visible, and it has done it. Nevertheless, another painting could have done it too. The image is thus secondary to the concept. Kelly stated once music and my work strengthen each other.

The subject is becoming more fragile, elusive even, almost impenetrable stains and splashes of opaque white are irregularly veiling the dark drawing. Tachisme comes to mind as a part of the conceptual matrix, it is sometimes called abstraction lyrique , a term similar to my poetic painting . Spontaneous and intuitive overlap of flat areas with fuzzy boundaries is randomly concealed under blind spots of white. At first it looks like a sign of a decaying fresco. On a second thought, to veil a painting by another is a documented practice during the 16th C, when Titian painted the Triumph of Love (NG,London) as a cover for, possibly a portrait of a woman. Agnolo Bronzino painting covered one by Jacopo Pontormo. Their reasons had to do with the persecution of dissidents. In other words, with issues of freedom. Kelly tackles the image head on at first, then he coerce it to hide the likeness behind a tactile appearance of the blind spot. It is the spontaneous emotional charge that locates the painting between the likeness (secondary) and its unravelling(primary). Immanuel Kant argued that freedom of a man is a specific form of causality when the subject acts spontaneously. It is the freedom to forget the limits (the other), when at the same time The Other is the necessary condition to be free.

Dr Slavka Sverakova Writer, Historian, Theoretician Honorary Research Fellow University of Ulster, Belfast.