The Story Behind "Settings"
The Story Behind "Settings"
The paintings of Todd Kelly have consistently spiraled between painting's surface and its conceptual depth. Working frequently with layers, Kelly alternates stencilled shapes, dotted lines, tiny grids or magnified brushtrokes, and typically a sort of unified quilt flattens the layers into an overall sensation. Frequently jumping within a series, show, or even painting between abstraction and outlined or flattened figuration, Kelly enjoys the interplay between objects, still life arrangements, and patterns. His work has made successively intricate arguments for the continual pleasures to be found in the arena of still life painting for contemporary painters.
In his most recent series "Settings", both his intricately painted grids, with their pastel gradients, and the concept behind a still life have been given ever firmer prominence. The grids now take over all but the edge of the paintings, and the objects are often real, inserted under or on top of the painted surface. Sometimes, they hang off a chain, and so add a sort of charm necklace or mobile twinking in the breeze, another rebus of meanings that can be considered both for its aesthetic, Pop value, and inevitable references to the artist's lived experience - t-shirts, socks, a phone, unpaid bills, and objects of personal signifance and aesthetic whimsy.
Kelly splits his time between living in Brooklyn, NY and working in his barn studio in Upstate New York, where he is surrounded by chickens, flowers, and studio views of the changing seasons.
"When looking for a place to be, for a spot to land...all of these 'Settings' are a place for something to happen. You're putting all these things together, and it turns into some kind of narrative or a story...a 'Setting' is sort of a place where things gather, where people gather."
At the sudden onset of the pandemic, Kelly moved his painting practice to the dining room of his house upstate, as his barn was suitable only for seasonal use. The change in setting propelled a more constrained way of working where the paintings reflected each other and bodies of work that previously were separate started to be in dialogue with each other.
"This blue-gray painting is the first piece I made in this series in which the painted grid actually covers all the objects glued to the canvas. After the paint dried I glued multicolored rocks to the surface creating a situation with objects under the blanket and objects on top of the blanket as if in parallel universes."
"My studio floor is always covered with groups of these little paintings awaiting their next move. It’s a long decision making process ... after creating a simple arrangement I paint around the collaged images, then photograph the result. That process image is then collaged back into the painting and then I paint over or around them again. That process gets repeated until the thing feels finished. "
Interview with Danielle Mysliwiec, Artist and Program Director of the Studio Art Department at American University, Washington, D.C.
Excerpts from a conversation in December 2020 where Todd Kelly discusses the process and inspiration behind "Settings", Kelly's most recent body of work.
Full length: 17:30 minutes.
"I think of the grid area like a blanket laid out for a picnic or some other event to happen. It includes and sometimes covers the objects, gives them a space to interact and become metaphors, and possibly even creates narrative."
- Todd Kelly
Todd Kelly: "Settings", January 9 - February 13, 2021