Exhibition News

John Kelly's "There was an Australian, an Englishman and an Irishman . . ." on show at The Piccadilly Gallery, London (2006).

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Published Tuesday, 9 May 2006

John Kelly’s work has for many years been invested with the iconic symbols of Australian art, particularly the Dobell cows, the racehorse Phar Lap and even the Australia Council’s kangaroo logo.

The resulting imagery has been well received and resulted in Kelly’s work gaining acclaim from critics and solid support from collectors and investors. International success came in 1999 with his now monumental and iconic sculpture Cow up a Tree in the Champs de la Sculpture II Exposition, on the Champs Elysees in 1999. It should never be underestimated how difficult it is for an artist’s idiom to become accepted into popular culture and John Kelly has now set upon further developing and expanding his.

While Kelly is adept at reworking cultural icons from Australia he is now turning his microscope to a telescope as he reworks global cultural icons – beginning with the Venice Biennale and the various national pavilions. The pavilions are created with the same high degree of finish as his larger sculptures and paintings – these are precision models or sculptures incorporating miniature paintings and sculptures.

Perhaps it is reasonable to see in these pavilions that Kelly is transitioning from intensively exploring specific icons such as Dobell’s cows, Pharlap or the Ozco kangaroo to a complex study of western cultural iconography – broader in scope and far more demanding to realise in an artistic idiom. And for this reason alone we can anticipate Kelly’s work developing a new idiom and perhaps working with new media.

Visitors to Kelly’s last exhibition in Melbourne last November (2005) at Niagara Galleries saw the first of these pavilions - Australian pavilion. The pavilions are scale models into which he places real paintings and sculpture that happen to be small. The paintings are painted on copper etching plates.

John Kelly John Kelly John Kelly

Kelly says of his miniatures that painting on copper goes back to the 16th century and I have made small paintings in the past. I think it important that the paintings and sculptures are not seen to be scale models but real art work that just happens to be small.

Next to the Australian pavilion he also exhibited a scale model of ACCA, another of Australia's public art venues.

His most recent project titled There was an Australian, an Englishman and an Irishman... explores the idea of having multiple cultural identities. Kelly says: The work naturally evolved into this area. It probably started with my work with the Australia Council and is supported by the fact that I have a passport for each of these countries and therefore my work is eligible to represent Australia, Ireland and England at the Venice Biennale.. The pavilions also reference the vast administrative layering that accompanies the visual arts resulting in the tensions between administrators and artists at times.

The art in each of the pavilions is divided between the three identities with the Dobell's Cows and the Ozco logo work supplemented by acknowledgement of the work of Sir Sydney Nolan - another Australian of Irish descent,. Nolan’s Moonboy (the first of Nolan’s classic icons from 1939/40) portrays a friend who momentarily becomes an alien. There are obvious references to the synonyms of alien wrapped in the moon head on a stalk. There are also reference to Philip Guston and Francis Bacon (lightbulbs).

The London exhibition features the British pavilion and their premier contemporary art space the Tate Modern, both made to a scale of 1:20. These models were made in Cork in collaboration with Cliff d'Olliver another Australian living in Ireland.

Altogether there are 8 modes - 4 for Tate Modern and 4 for the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Next year Kelly will be exhibiting a fictional Irish pavilion and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Ireland.

Further Information: More information about John Kelly can be found here:
Blott on the landscape.
3 Cows in a Pile ExNews.

By Martin Shub, May 2006.

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