LONDON.- Offer Waterman
announces an exhibition of new paintings by acclaimed British artist Diarmuid Kelley. Kelley came to prominence at the age of 23, as the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious NatWest Art Prize and his work has attracted a number of notable collectors including HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Devonshire. Offer Waterman has represented Kelley since 1998 and this is his 7th solo exhibition with the gallery.
The exhibition includes 12 new paintings - studies of the figure, interiors and still life - many of which demonstrate an increased ambition in terms of their scale and complexity. Kelley begins his painting process by creating a carefully orchestrated stage for his subjects to inhabit; various fabrics and props form an almost abstract tapestry of rich or muted colour, which is animated under the carefully modulated natural light. Kelley relates this fascination with the theatrical qualities of painting to the work of Old Masters such as Caravaggio, but also to more contemporary figures Lucian Freud and Francesca Woodman. I was inclined to think that in Freuds work the studio itself becomes a third character in his portraits as important as the carefully arranged, stage-like interiors of Francesca Woodmans photographs.
Kelleys interiors combine hints of narrative with a bold use of vivid colour and light, which recall the great works of Van Dyke and William Nicholson. In Kelleys hands, humble and ephemeral subjects, from fruit to autumn leaves, inhabit a silent but eloquent space in time and are portrayed with a rigorous observation of colour and form.
Kelley is rightly celebrated for his portraiture and his work is regularly featured in the BP Portrait Award, for which he has also previously been shortlisted. His subjects range from public figures, including a commission of Sir Richard Thompson for The Royal College of Physicians, to the personal, with many of his friends sitting for the larger works that can take many months to complete.
There is a cinematic dimension to these paintings of friends; narratives that are implied but never revealed. A childhood love of cinema proved an early inspiration for this aspect of Kelleys painting; growing up in the Midlands in the 80s, I liked cinematography, photography. I was more struck by cinema than anything else; I grew up looking at old black and white films.
As we revel in these enigmatic paintings of Karl and Jane, one is also made aware of the timeless narrative which exists between artist and subject in the act of making, a story we complete in the act of viewing.