LEE KELLY - Six Decades


June 7 - July 14, 2018

First Thursday Reception: June 7, 6 - 8pm

Lee Kelly is one of the most revered artists in the Pacific Northwest, best known for his monumental public sculptures throughout Oregon and the surrounding region. Six Decades is an exhibition that highlights a special selection of artworks from 1958-2018 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Kelly’s first show at Marylhurst College, Oregon. 

The show highlights Kelly’s prolific career and a persistence of vision through form and material. The exhibition features early and recent works that represent recurring stylistic themes through paintings, works on paper, wall sculptures, freestanding sculptures, and intimately sized, editioned maquettes. 

Kelly embraces an interdisciplinary approach to art making and every medium in his oeuvre resonates with his distinctive style. The darkly rich palette and organic shapes in the oil painting, Untitled (c.1960), mirrors elements of form and color that occur in recent hand-painted sculptures, while small steel works share a kinship with the towering presence of their large scale brethren made decades prior.

Kelly continues to find inspiration through his travels around the globe. The combination of Eastern and Western architecture is evident in recent sculptures Winter Song I and Winter Song II, 2016 inspired by ancient temples, walls and arches meticulously built, block upon block. Tools of the Butter Trade I & II, 2018, reveal a deep interest in totemic forms and calls attention to Kelly’s ability to synthesize modernist shapes with earthbound structures.

Surface plays an integral role in every one of Lee Kelly’s sculptures. Works that exemplify his use of hand-painting, silver and gold leafing and enameling will be on view as well as patina-ed, large Cor-ten steel pieces intended to evolve and change over time. In the 1980s Kelly began using a grinder tool to add expressive textures and swirling circular markings to stainless steel. The process involves repetitive, rhythmic grinding and adds unexpected dimensionality to the artworks. The artist’s marks are especially enlivened in the natural environment, where natural light allows glinting surfaces to dazzle and reflect the sun’s shifting rays.

Born in 1932 in McCall, Idaho, Lee Kelly graduated from the Museum Art School at the Portland Art Museum (now known as the Pacific Northwest College of Art, PNCA) in 1959. Kelly’s long and prestigious career and prolific nature have resulted in a significant body of work which can be seen in public and private collections throughout the country, including the Portland Art Museum (Portland, OR), Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA), New Orleans Art Museum (New Orleans, LA), Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA), and the City of Sapporo, Japan. As one of the most recognized artists in the Northwest, his modernist sculptures are a central focus at regional institutions such as Reed College, Marylhurst University, Oregon State University, Catlin Gabel School, the Oregon Health and Sciences University, and the Washington Park Rose Garden. In 2012, one of his most significant works, Memory 99, was installed in Portland’s North Park blocks, at the new home of PNCA. Kelly has been exhibiting at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery since the early 1980s. In 2010, he was the subject of a major career retrospective at the Portland Art Museum.