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Denis Kelly
A journey into the Irish visual art

By Valeria Ceregini

“Treffen in Narvik” 2018, oil on c-print, cm 100 x 150. Ph courtesy Galleria Monica De Cardenas, Milano
It is impossible to predict what the observer may feel or how they might respond, however, my hope is that the paintings might connect somehow through their simplicity of form and minimal construction or through their playful idiosyncratic nature.
How important is time in your artistic process, from the concept to the realisation of the painting?
Denis Kelly: Time can affect my work in different ways. For example, some paintings can be completed relatively quickly from idea to finished painting in a week or two, where form, colour and composition all come together in a sort of ‘balanced equilibrium’. On other occasions it can take many months before a satisfactory work is achieved. There is no secret formula for making a successful painting - it either works or it does not. I usually stop when it feels right and nothing can be added or removed. Also, time spent, does not necessarily make a better painting. A painting that has been worked on for a long time can sometimes fail. Time is embedded in the process and in the painting, where decisions can be tracked and the journey or history of the making is there for those with the patience to see and the time to spend.
How do you consider your art practice? And how do you describe it?
DK: My art practice employs a reductive language which relates to the history of modernist painting. The overriding ambition is one of simplicity in the creation of illusionist space. A duality is presented where forms and fields of colour respect the flatness of the pictorial plane, yet simultaneously suggest a deeper space. Usually I begin with a series of compositions using motifs inspired by the found wood support material or alternatively use a photo reference from the outside world. The references usually record geometric forms from the built or designed environment, a railing, a gate, a shadow, a sign, an architectural detail, a letterform. In other cases, a painting can be derived from a previous painting, where I want to continue along a certain path and explore a nuance of form or colour. Tension is created through opposing and contradictory relationships – figure/ground, control/chance, flat/textured, transparent/opaque and so on. Colour is intuitive and experimental and often planned choices are amended during the course of painting which is applied in a non flamboyant manner. Play and wit are always present and ultimately the intention is to allude to rather than describe, allowing curious forms to materialise, encouraging a slow investigation of the work. 
The paintings are mostly modest in scale, approximately 25 x 30 cm and are supported by a mounted found plywood material that often acts as a starting point for the work. Lately, cotton or linen canvas has also been used in order to support the relief printed mark. A surface textured or found mark acts as a counter to the hard-edge geometry of line, grids, circles and rectangles that connect the work to reality, diverting it from the historical canon of minimalist painting, while honouring its legacy.

Currently, what is the title of your solo exhibition in Turin and how does it fit with the main concept of “Painting through its poetical emotions”? 
DK: The title of the show, “A Sense of Order. A Sense of Disorder”, is partly inspired by E.H. Gombrich’s book The Sense of Order (a survey of the universal human impulse to seek order and rhythm in space and time) and also by characteristics found within the paintings’ surface. In particular, a series of flatly painted motifs are juxtaposed alongside an expressive found mark or textured imprint through a controlled technique. Occasionally paint bleeds under the masking, creating the incidental mark, “a sense of disorder”, to counter the carefully calculated “order” of precise forms. Contradictions are commonplace across the surface where colour is mostly intuitive and form is planned. One can trace the painting process and decisions made at various points throughout the painting. The painting is not just simultaneous, but presents the linear time of its making.
Which emotions do you try or not to arouse in the observer?
DK: It is impossible to predict what the observer may feel or how they might respond, however, my hope is that the paintings might connect somehow through their simplicity of form and minimal construction or through their playful idiosyncratic nature. Some paintings are more prominent, portraying bright vivid colour which consequently makes them appear active and jubilant. They sometimes incorporate a motif that suggests a kind of “motion” on the surface of the painting which continues (or begins) at the paintings” edge, inferring movement from or into the architectural space of the observer. These compositions might imply a sense of fun, joy or exuberance through their rhythmic “animated” aesthetic, bright colour choices and dialogue with the surrounding space. Usually, I choose to include something that disturbs the status-quo or stasis of the grid, it being either a found mark that is slightly out of kilter, a deliberate imprint or by allowing chance to play a part in the painting. Now and then, the paintings are installed in a sequence where their common visual vocabulary creates a kind of ‘narrative’ across the installation. In contrast, other works are more subtle and understated requiring closer viewing. For example, a field of colour might be interrupted by the slight impression of something behind. Or a line positioned across a grid may slip behind pushing the background forward or a diagonal added to prompt a perspective view. All are inspired by lived experience, expressing the feeling of being in the world – fragments that are subconsciously familiar, yet stripped to their elemental form in a playful engagement. They challenge one to find meaning. These paintings are quite and reticent, yet promote curiosity and may question if beauty can be this simple. I hope they offer both delight and surprise to the observer and the joy of making a discovery.
Why do you use as a support of your non-figurative painting some objet trouvé such as plywood panels? And now why did you decide to change your medium keeping your recognisable painting mark?
DK: The found wood makes a connection between the painting and the reality of everyday life. The surface of the wood contains a history of marks and abrasions that act as a counter to the “hard edge” painting, offering an organic or poetic characteristic – a “figurative” element in a field of geometry. These incidental marks either act as a starting point for the development of a motif or are employed as an expressionist mark beneath large fields of colour. This I hope would evoke a desire to question what is happening in the work. More recently, these ideas have been explored further through image transfer on to canvas material, using relief printing techniques that are inspired by the textures, letterforms and offset marks present on the surface of the found plywood. This natural progression allows freedom to develop my own distinctive mark rather than appropriating a form that already exists. The new mark is made mechanically through image transfer or relief printing allowing a “poetic” texture to continue as part of the painting. This process allows a controlled expressive mark to be made that potentially could be repeated indefinitely.

The exhibition project “Paintings through its poetical emotions” (20th September 2018 – 2nd February 2019, Galleria Weber & Weber, Turin) curated by Valeria Ceregini is kindly supported by Culture Ireland (cultureireland.ie)

(“Juliet art magazine” n. 199, December 2018)