Being one Saturday at my Ichtys exhibition at the East Lodge, LSA, I had the pleasure of getting to know the artist Bryan Kelly whose studio – ‘a little room of happiness and joy‘ (as described so well by one of his visitors) – is located at the same building at the end of Jephson Gardens. He kindly agreed to be interviewed by me and below are the answers which I would like to share so that you can also be touched by the beauty of the worlds he creates and learn a bit more about the artist behind these ‘arresting images full of life and passion‘.
Where do you come from?
I am from Co. Clare, in the beautiful West of Ireland, which at the time of my childhood was a fairly deprived area. There was very little industry, it was during the second World War and life was quite a struggle. But as there was little or no crime it was a great place to grow up.
Do you include familiar places in your paintings?
I have repetitive patterns – objects which are symbols; such are the houses and peacocks which appear in my artworks. I like the peacocks because I like colour.
Which is your favourite colour?
Yellow. Yellow is happy.
Do you consider yourself a happy person?
I would say I am ‘reasonably’ happy. It’s to do with coming to terms with where I am in with this period of my life, my last words would be ‘I’ve left it all out there’, meaning I’ve given everything I’ve had to give, even though it often wasn’t enough. What makes me deeply sad is ‘man’s inhumanity to man‘ on which I reflect in my melancholic periods.
Do you have a favourite artist?
Van Gogh. I love his use of colour, texture, the simplicity of his paintings and his life. He had strange, lonely life, craving for love that he never got.
Is there a contemporary artist that you really like?
I would say David Hockney, again – for his use of colour.
Do you have a favourite artwork of yours?
It’s called ‘the Traveller’ and it is probably not my most popular painting. You can see a horse-drawn caravan without a horse situated in a surrealistic landscape. Someone brought it there but who you cannot tell. Where is the horse (if there is a horse)? It makes you ask yourself questions, questions that even I don’t know the answer to, that’s the beauty of it.
Another favourite artwork of mine is ‘The Legacy’ which is a Van Gogh’s tribute.
Would you tell me about a painting of yours with a particularly interesting story?
A Newspaper Reporter once wrote about one of my paintings: ‘Here we can see the artist at the front of the artwork painted his happy childhood expressed by the bright blossoming poppies; then we can see the road which represents the hard life and all its challenges; the house is a symbol of the happiness at home which one creates when he/she settles and creates a family; and the other road which comes out of the house and we can not see where it ends is the future, the path to the outer life.’ And I thought it was complete nonsense as I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I was painting it. But then an italian lady bought this very painting and when I put it on the wall for her and asked her why she bough it she said that the poppies remind her of her happy childhood in Italy, the road is like the life she lived with all its challenges, the house is the place where she spent the happiest years of her life with her husband and the road coming out and disappearing round the corner is her future, the road that will lead her to the other side…
How would you describe your work process?
I start with a simple ‘hook'(object), it could be anything, and then gradually build a picture of fantasy (happy colour) round it.
How did you find your perfect medium?
Oils are the only medium that interested me, all the Impressionists used it. Why did I start painting in the Naive Style I don’t know. I never pre-plan a painting.
How important is the quality of the materials you use?
I recognise brands and I always use very high quality oils and canvases.
What was the fist thing that gave you reassurance in painting?
The total lack of input of my art lecturer into my work. Was she not interested? Or was she too interested to interfere? That I didn’t know until the end of her teaching when she expressed her love of my artworks.
She had Double Masters in Art and was teaching ordinary people to paint. I would say she was quite intolerant to ‘people of a lesser god’.
Many years before I undertook painting as a profession I was once out of work. I walked past a flower shop stall and bought a flower, I bought an Iris. And then I went to Woolworths, a cheap department store, and bought children’s tin of Watercolour with a little brush and Watercolour pad. I went home, put the Iris in a milk bottle and painted the Iris. My reaction to what I’ve painted? I could not believe I had done it…
Do you paint more when you are sad or when you are happy?
I would say it’s 50/50. I escape from everyday life the best I can through my painting. But when I feel really sad I write poems.
Which one would you consider your best artwork?
My signature painting is ‘The Yellow House’. People also like ‘Lavender’, ‘The Timber House’ and ‘Tranquil Cottage’.
Which is your favourite place and why?
It’s a place to which I’ve only been once. It’s a rock rather than an island and is located off the South West coast of Ireland. It’s where a band of monks founded a community in pre-medieval times. They built large stone houses/shelters in the shape of Beehive son the top of the rock, they also cut terraces into it and imported earth and grew their own veg. The community lived there for hundreds of years, its the most mystical place in the world.
Tell me a little bit about your background?
I used to work for many years in garment manufacturing and textiles. I never enjoyed one minute of it. I learnt about the Class system and the exploitation of the Working Classes. The way people had to work to earn minimum wage affected me badly and possibly influenced by painting style – my paintings make people happy, they are a complete contrast.
I am also very tactile, I personally love tactile textures and this also affects my paintings – to be to my liking they must have a tactile quality. A lot of people say to me they feel like they want to touch them.
I see you are working on a new painting – an interior of a cottage. Where did the idea for the rug came from?
It’s a symbol of comfort. Not a luxury but an essential item. It’s a basic, inexpensive way of bringing colour into your space.
How about the pottery?
It’s an Austrian Art Nouveau Pottery, I have a collection of about 30 pieces in my house.
What do people say about your art?
I will read you some extracts from my ‘Guest Book’:
‘Happy.’ (3-year old)
‘I feel like these bright paintings are sunshine that shine upon me, also they take me to a peaceful place, a perfect place.’ (Sofia)
‘If they were in my room I would never cry.‘ (Ola, a child)
‘Arresting images, undiluted colour that lifts your spirit.’ (Wendy)
‘This is the world as it should be.’ (a child)
‘So colourful and full of life and passion.’ (Caroline)
‘Absolutely exquisite work.’ (Hannah)
‘Fantastic, just my bag into fantasy.’
‘Stunning images, like shafts of sunlight an a cloudy day.‘ (Caroline, Warwick)
What would you advice someone who just starts in painting?
You must paint from your heart. Find what style you like. Start with ‘I would like to do a picture like this.’ and see how you get along.
If you are taking lessons you may end up in a style that your teacher wants you to paint in. The best teacher is the one that lets you get on with it.
A painting is about revelation, expressing your feelings even if you are not aware of them. My paintings are drawn from my subconscious.
Thank you, Bryan!