This interplay between abstract color and figuratively shaped canvas began about a month ago and he will have three of these pieces at 4 Bridges, out of about 30 pieces in his booth.
“I’ve realized that imagery is something that I am interested in playing with,” he says. “It seems like a natural step for me to inject a new layered meaning through imagery. The shaped canvas has allowed me to do that while still maintaining this complex, abstract color field that’s become a part of my process.”
One reason Kelley is looking forward to showing these new pieces is to get feedback on them. After staring at them all day in his studio, he has a hard time telling what’s good and bad anymore.
“I think these new painting are either really cool or just completely horrible,” he says. “I would ask my wife, but she’ll just ask me why I’m not upstairs folding laundry. So it’s good to get it out there and get feedback.”
Layered Glass Jewels
In addition to larger canvases, Kelley will also exhibit smaller pieces on layered glass. Most are about seven inches square and two inches thick, made from a half dozen panes painted on one or both sides and sandwiched with clear epoxy resin. He made these initially as color and composition studies using extra materials.
“I had lots of glass pieces. Every night when I would go down to my basement, I would use leftover paint and experiment with different marks on this glass.”
As the colored panes accumulated, he would experiment with different combinations. “Not only would it teach me things for my bigger pieces, but they also became little jewels in themselves,” he says. “You can see each layer, and when you stack them they begin to interact. The top layer of glass might have one single brush stroke. The bottom might have a whole opaque layer of color.”
A Tip of the Hat, A Flick of the Hand
So what powers Jake Kelley’s one-man chess game? “That’s a hard, hard question,” he says.
“Painting is a conversation, right? You can only hope that you can become an important part of that dialog,” he says. “My work is kind of a post-modern play on abstract expressionist ideas.”
Why post-modern? “Because it is work that’s aware of its roots and aware of the absurdity of some of the ideas that it’s dealing with, such as genuine expression or originality.”
His work, he says, is simultaneously a tip of the hat to abstract expressionism and ... he makes a gesture. The four fingers of one hand flick, palm down, from under the chin out into the air. It’s a classic insult, maybe more Italian than American, far less obscene and insulting than the familiar middle finger, but with some of the same literal meaning. It carries a dismissive sense, somewhere between “Get the f--- out of my face!” and “What, are you still here?”
And what does it mean to give a simultaneously tip and flip to the artistic movement that inspires him? “It means I’m trying to paint with sincerity while kind of being conscious of my own cynical understandings of culture,” he says.
I mention irony, but he doesn’t see any in his approach. Actually the timing of our conversation is ironic, he says, “Because I’m a teacher and this very day I’ve been interviewing my students on camera about their own work, and it’s a difficult thing to do, to talk about your work without being too sensitive or defensive.”
I reassure him that he has been neither sensitive nor defensive, and ask what he learns from his students. “They remind me every day that being an artist is not a walk in the park, it’s a grueling day in the factory.”