Curtis Kelly’s new paintings interpret, celebrate and curiously abstract the design accomplishments of noted architects with a futuristic spin into a view of a very different world.

Page 14 Architectural Digest

by Bruce Helander

urtis Kelly’s new series of artwork takes us on a magical tour of her unique deductive painterly slant that focuses on examining and abstracting the built environment designed by an impressive fraternity of legendary architects. For years Kelly has been diligently sharpening her skills and developing her significant natural talent in a well-equipped and practical studio tucked away in Grandview Heights, a historic neighborhood in downtown West Palm Beach. This brightly lit space sets the stage for the investigative design survey the artist pulls together from her research material.

Harmony and balance, particularly as found in modern architecture, have always been important and inspirational to the artist. Those basic elements and framed details form the basis of Kelly’s new abstract paintings that explore the same tension and release that buildings offer. Great buildings, like great sculpture, fascinate viewers as they pass by, perpetually enjoying and celebrating the creativity of mankind in the built environment. The massive pillars of concrete and steel that the artist has chosen as her subjects here are a challenge to reproduce and capture on canvas. Kelly skillfully selects portions of structures that have a wonderful visual poetry from the outside in, and whose basic architectonic blueprints are practical guides for her interpretive extensions that wear down the plastered sharp lines into layers of color and shape. To add another dimension to these symmetrical spaces, the artist spins a futuristic spirit into the fabric of her compositions. Distantly recognizable styles are interwoven with a witty and unexpected turn that make streetlights and entrances seems like they come from other worlds. Windows and corridors are stretched and pulled, giving a vintage flying saucer’s sensibility to the swirling and gravitating pull of the buildings’ concrete foundations.

 In addition to the oddly proportioned shapes that sometimes seem to levitate and hover above a central plane, the artist has invented a color scheme that might well serve an alien interior designer who wants to go with the retro-outer space-traditional look. Kelly mixes up strange brews of bubbling hot shades and tints and juxtaposes these concoctions with cool, modernistic, complementary oil paint washes that seem to wrap around some objects like Saturn’s rings. Overall, there is a pleasant repetition of ribbon
“Frank Gehry,” oil on canvas, 20 inches x 24 inches

“Cesar Pelli,” oil on canvas, 36 inches x 48 inches

 forms on the sides of buildings, and even in the sky, where these elements pull together the composition and give this new series a common denominator of personal style throughout. In this fresh, new world of mythical landscapes pointing to the future, gravity is suspended and structures seem to float or speed away into other GPS routes that may be more serene and less chaotic than on earth at the moment. Strong compositional elements are balanced by spheres and ellipses, and softened by a muted color palette of subdued galaxy violet, Pluto yellow, orbiting orange, planetary pink, and sky blue. With all these ingredients, less the bricks and mortar, and without a permit, Kelly sets up her own scaffolding that elevates the original structure’s charm and dynamic proportions, but with an artistic license that allows her to "build" a make-believe horizon, and synchronize the subtle romance of modern architectural style with the edge of futuristic abstraction. With all this placed into a single picture, a sense of mystery and intrigue follows the viewer as you realize that these semi-recognizable forms could have been the catalyst for a new-age design concept somewhere beyond this world that we know.

In a lineup of surprises that reminds one of a slide tour of inventive architectural styles, the artist has paid homage to her favorite architects by titling each painting in her new series with legendary names, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, who is coincidentally the world’s most celebrated museum designer. There is a challenging game going on between the artist and the audience, where the viewer must go through a deductive evaluation of past styles and bits of iconic structure to discover the original hand that brought about such a distinctively created environment.

In the painting titled "Herzog & de Meuron," Kelly has ingeniously combined interior and exterior elements and projected them onto a fantastical

cityscape that turns everything inside out. At first glance, there is a peculiar sense of open area that seems to beckon the viewer to prepare for a landing and an exchange of ideas. Positioned high above is a hanging ceiling, which illuminates a public playing field that also might be the setting for a participative team sport invented in another galaxy. In this composition, three tall, pod-like vertical spoon shapes sprout up like mushrooms to shed some light on the planned activities below. As a final characteristic that connects all of these paintings, the artist encircles most of the images, as in this one, with a rope that delineates the inner spaces and ties everything together.

In a distinctively southern California mix of unconventional forms and pastel colors, the work titled "Frank Gehry" presents another whirling composition from the ozone on a good day that shows off the classic shapes post-modernism ushered into the turn of the century. In this depiction of a recognizable Gehry mold, Kelly follows a tradition of artists from Andy Warhol to Larry Rivers who caught their stride by developing works that were reflective of existing objects. Art about art continues to enjoy a respect and fascination by an array of artists who appreciate the challenge to create something a bit different from what we all can recognize. In this painting, a cluster of cylinders and off balance, square shapes are placed together and seem to be looking back at us. The triangle of high voltage, vertical street lamps adds three points of light that serve to define the property.

In another painting that salutes Cesar Pelli, the artist presents us with a choice of roads to take and stairs to travel. The top of the structure seems to have a large cutout astrodome outline that mirrors the hole in the ground located in the lower right. Curtis Kelly’s years of still life investigation and polish adds a curious, painterly surface that produces smooth, abstract detail and an admirable mix of soft brush strokes between shapes and lines.



Page 15 Architectural Digest

In another work, titled "HOK Sport," which will be shown with a select group from this series later this year at Art Basel in Miami, the artist has invented another planetary landing site, complete with beacons of opening night spotlights that can be seen far above the atmosphere. This painting is another good example of how Kelly distorts the reality of the past into a future of utilitarian purposes. If the platform isn’t enough to get us thinking about UFO’s, then the small spaceship about to land in the center of Yankee Stadium will surely get a front page headline in tomorrow’s New York Times, now that the Weekly World News, which had a penchant for alien implantation, is no longer with us. Perhaps the most identifiable abstract pattern in this series is the Guggenheim Museum’s curious circular interior that soars upwards into the skylight, now uncovered after years of neglect. Not only is the artist’s interpretation of this famous inside space immediately recognizable; but the bold building on Fifth Avenue in New York City is likely one of the most familiar exteriors in America. In this painting, the homage to Frank Lloyd Wright is respectful and engaging, as with all of the reputations the artist acknowledges and preserves.

In the tradition of Edward Hopper, who loved to recreate the architectural everyday landscape of America, Curtis Kelly starts with a quick sketch that is then developed into a small, painted study on paper. From this point on, the artist begins her voyage into the uncharted territories of abstraction as she meticulously reduces the architectural references into areas of refinement. This combination of licensed disciplines from surveyor, draftsman, engineer, builder, inspector, and cataloger have brought a new lease on properties that now have a different slant and` character, but still have the same grace and charisma that made them notable in the first place.

There is an impressive array of additional paintings that continue to explore and honor the great triumphs of modern architecture, each telling an out of the ordinary visual story that blends the old and the new with a painter’s spin on a future that is already here.

“Frank Lloyd Wright 2,” oil on canvas, 38 inches x 60 inches

These works will be on view at Donna Tribby Fine Art
later this fall and will continue through December.
Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art. He is the former
Provost of a college of art and architecture. His work is represented
in over fifty public collections, including some museums depicted
as abstract buildings that are mentioned in this article.

“HOK Sport,” oil on canvas, 40 inches x 30 inches

“Herzog & de Meuron,” oil on canvas, 24 inches x 30 inches

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