John Kelly has lived and worked in Reen, West Cork, for the last ten years. The son of an Irish father and English mother, his work hints to his early life in Australia, where he emigrated with his family at the age of six months; he maintains passports for all three countries and their differing cultures have all impacted on his own cultural identity. He has explored, and grown to appreciate and value, the magnificent landscape and coastline of West Cork, and it has provided the inspiration for his most recent body of work.
Like all good artists Kelly is constantly challenging himself to explore new themes and directions in his work, both as a sculptor and painter, all the time retaining a slightly rebellious streak like his infamous namesake, the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. In 1841 Ned’s father ‘Red’ had also left Ireland for Australia, albeit on a less voluntary basis following the theft of two pigs; a few years later the potato famine struck and tens of thousands of Irish people had little choice but to follow. In these new paintings you sense that the artist is exploring not only the local topography, but also the immensely strong bonds that will forever link these two proud nations.
John Kelly is perhaps best known for his monumental sculptures of painted bronze cows stuck in trees, installed on the Champs Élysées, the Hague, Ireland, and permanently in the Docklands, Melbourne. Kelly was brought up in Australia but has lived and exhibited in France, England, and Ireland, as well as Australia. In 2013 he had a spell as artist-in-residence with the Australian Antarctic Division. He has also shown sculptures in the Guangzhou Triennale 2008, and the Goteborg Biennale 2011, and has had a recent show at Sotheby’s Sydney, where he is the only living artist to be represented.