John Kelly was born in 1965. His father, from Cork, and mother from Bristol, the family immigrated to Australia the same year. Due to his birth, heritage and circumstance John now holds three passports and therefore is an Englishman, an Australian and an Irishman. Kelly has lived in all three countries and for the past decade has resided in west Cork, Ireland. Although he has exhibited in Ireland before, Sticks and Stones might be regarded as his first exhibition as an Irish artist.
In 1985 Kelly obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts Painting) from RMIT University, Melbourne, where he also completed his Masters of Arts in 1995. As a winner of the 1995 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship, he travelled to London to study as an Affiliate Student at the Slade School of Art from 1996 to 1997. In the UK he exhibited regularly with the prestigious Piccadilly Galleries in Cork Street, London and then Agnews Gallery, and has continued to do so with Merville Galleries. As a painter, sculptor and printmaker Kelly engages across mediums and also writes, having written for Art Monthly (Australia & UK) and Circa magazine (Ireland).
In Australia Kelly is best known for his paintings and large sculptures of William Dobell’s cows, papier-mâché creations used during WWII in an attempt to confuse enemy aircraft as to the location of the Australian airbases. His sculptures of these cows have been exhibited on the Champs Elysées, Paris, in Les Champs de la Sculpture, 1999, Monte Carlo, in La Parade des Animaux, 2002, the MAMAC in France, The Hague, 2007, Glastonbury (2006 and 2007), Cork city 2011, and Melbourne Docklands (2001 to the present).
More recently, Kelly’s work has taken various turns and adventures that have seen him tackle contemporary issues – such as branding in contemporary culture, and museum politics – in places such as the Guangzhou Triennale, 2008, and the Göteborg Biennale, 2009. In 2005 Kelly’s work was commissioned by David Walsh (Museum of Old and New Art, MONA) in Hobart to create work for his Moo Brew beer labels. Kelly referenced the logo of the Australia Council for the Arts, who themselves had advocated a “branding the Arts” strategy. In what was a successful anti-branding branding campaign the award winning labels have become iconic Australian beer labels.
Kelly’s work is held in many museums and galleries in Australia and also the Guangdong Museum in China. His most recent exhibitions have been in Sydney (Look and Put) and London (British Art Fair).
Photography by Emma Smith