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John KELLY (b.1965)

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John Kelly paints cows. But he paints them like no other artist paints cows. They are cubic shapes, floating in mid-air, sometimes on trestles, or upside down with their udders pointing upwards. Their inspiration comes from a story that is almost as bizarre as the images themselves. 

Kelly read that a World War 2 Government-directed activity of one of Australia’s greatest artists, William Dobell, was to make papier-mache cows and place them in fields to distract Japanese pilots surveying rural areas for military defence bases! 

But while Kelly’s paintings are as surreal as the original plan, they are not simply a novelty. They are the works of an artist of great talent, attention to detail, and precise execution.

John Kelly was born in Bristol, UK, in 1965, coming to Australia that year. His academic credits include Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) 1985, and Master of Arts (Fine Art) 1995, all achieved at RMIT University, Melbourne, as well as being an Affiliate Student, Slade School of Art, London. 

Now based in London, one of his best known works is, yes, a cow, but this time an eight metre bronze sculpture of one stranded in a tree. It was erected on the Boulevard Champs Elysee in Paris, as part of an international sculpture exhibition in 1999. 

Kelly’s devotion to cows has brought extraordinary acclaim, exhibitions, publicity, commissions and representation in public and private galleries around the world.

The on-going project reflects absurdities that seem to generate when the world is in conflict. Even at the time, Dobell himself could see the mad side to it, saying: “I think the authorities underestimate the eyesight of the Japanese airmen …”


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