Monday, December 7, 2009
Leon Kelly : An American Surrealist
One of the many finds yesterday on my trip to Art Basel with artist Candida Rodriguez was the work of American artist Leon Kelly.
I did not know of this great artist who passed away in 1982. There were various pieces and each very different from one another. I was hooked!
Here below an excerpt from the book, Leon Kelly: An American Surrealist,
from the Francis M. Naumann Fine Art Gallery.
Leon Kelly: An American Surrealist
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
Edited by Francis M. Naumann. Text by Martica Sawin.
Leon Kelly (1901-1982) belongs to that unique strain of American Surrealism that produced Arshile Gorky, Pavel Tchelitchew and Joseph Cornell. Wildlife and biomorphic forms fill his brightly-hued canvases, increasingly (from the 50s onwards) rendered with an almost Bellmer-esque exactitude. Like many before him, Kelly made the pilgrimage to Paris in 1925, where he befriended the great art critic Félix Fénéon and members of the Surrealist circle; upon his return to the U.S. he benefited from the presence of the expat Surrealists around Julien Levy, who was an important early advocate of his work. But Kelly was reclusive ("I believe I have a strong shot of the chemical that makes hermits and monks," he confessed), and later receded from public view. Now retrieved by the Surrealist and Dada scholars Martica Sawin and Francis Naumann, Leon Kelly is well served by this first major monograph, which includes excellent reproductions of both paintings and drawings.
“Closed in the chrysalis of his art” is the apt phrase Leon Kelly’s friend and dealer, Julien Levy, used to describe the artist. It is an oblique reference both to the bizarre insects which populated so many of his paintings and drawings and to the hermetic environment in which he lived and worked for half his life. When he died in 1982, Kelly had been living for forty years on a sand spit of an island off the New Jersey coast… It follows that the art that came from this inward-turned artist, living in relative isolation, would have a self-contained quality that set it apart from the contending -isms of modern art and from the reverberations of the nascent abstract expressionism that attracted his contemporaries.