Mitchell Kelly

Unspoken Conversations

January 22 - February 5 2011

“Although the paintings exist as an account of my experience of place, they possess a life of their own - one quite independent of the actual landscapes they depict.”  Mitchell Kelly

It is rare these days to find a young artist so thoroughly involved in the venerable tradition of landscape painting. The acuteness of Mitchell Kelly’s aesthetic response to the environment seems at odds with his 29 years.  Each of his eight solo exhibitions has referenced the Sydney-based artist’s relationship with a particular wilderness area in Australia. The current Unspoken Conversation works are the outcome of many journeys made up into the Blue Mountains of NSW.

Far from merely producing charming vistas, Kelly’s vision reaches beyond his immediate subject. Unspoken Conversations is part of a Master’s degree Kelly is currently undertaking at the College of Fine Art, University of NSW. The paintings were required to show an understanding of both an imaginative and rational response to the landscape. As Kelly explains, “ The new works seek to extend the notion of exploring sites through sensory experience (the Imaginative Idea) by integrating certain symbols or references to reality (the Rational Idea).

Kelly has always felt landscape as an immersive experience. To this end, visual accuracy is not the point. He is less concerned with factual description than with conveying the mood and poetic sensibility of a place - the Imaginative Idea. There is no predetermined intent but rather the need to communicate his intuitive relationship, or unspoken conversations with the landscape.

“The significance of spontaneity within my painting practice is paramount. The multiple departure points from realism seek to capture an essence of the landscape that will not compete with its innate beauty. The beginning of all my paintings is the hardest part as the first mark prescribes the life of the work.”

Nature is never static. It is in a state of constant flux, cumulative and multi-dimensional, and an understanding of this fuels Kelly’s preoccupation with process. He paints with a clear strong impulse, his artistic vocabulary shaped by the locations in which he has worked.  An affinity with the natural world manifests in the wonderful freedom of his brushwork. Everything seems to be alive and full of kinetic power as he explores the visual possibilities of a flat surface covered in line and vibrant colour.

Paring away all that is inessential he seeks to extract the essence of a place. Subtle references to the observed environment - the Rational Idea - are depicted through ‘scribbled’ linear symbols of birds, long grass, rocks and land formations. Trees and mountains are shown as simplified, deliberately naive shapes so as not to detract from his emotive intent. Multi-layered and densely textured, the paintings are built up through several applications of paint that are then scratched into and scraped back to elicit various grades of opacity and translucency.

Mitchell Kelly’s powerful abstractions map deeply felt responses and perceptions of the natural environment. In previous exhibitions his calligraphy appeared to dance across the landscape, but this new work is edgier, grittier - the painted line ground into the canvas like the passage of time itself. Reality is heightened and transfigured as the viewer responds to Mitchell Kelly’s expanded vision.

“This notion of time and change is for me, the catalyst in my art-making. The landscape is a vehicle in which I explore abstract concepts - history is revealed in the layering of paint and charcoal.”

Mitchell Kelly is currently undertaking a Fine Art Masters degree at COFA, UNSW. Unspoken Conversations is Mitchell Kelly’s eighth solo exhibition since completing a Bachelor of Art Education, University of NSW College of Fine Arts, Sydney in 2003. He has been a finalist in numerous competitions including the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, 2007 and was runner-up 2005, Norvill Art Prize for landscape painting 2006, Willoughby Art Prize 2005, the Strathfield Art Prize, the Mosman Art Prize and the Warringah Youth Art Prize 2002. He was awarded an Artist-in-Residence at Stuart Town Studios, Stuart Town 2007 and Artist-in-Residence at Haefliner’s Cottage, Hill End 2005 - 2006. 


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