25. JOHN KELLY
‘This scenario has been the inspiration for my work for a number of years: my intention is to create work that encapsulates the concepts and ideas that intrigue me. I take historical subjects such as Dobell’s cows…and my own personal experience to build a framework within which I can create my own vision of things. Within this I pursue a multi-layered research of concepts and ideas both visual and intellectual. Sometimes I use imagery that portrays a dumbness to camouflage a more sophisticated intent. Through this I generate visual ideas and concepts in paintings and sculptures that create their own history by engaging in the real world as works of art… I like to create works that reach beyond their absurdity to reflect something of my visual and intellectual environment. This is my intent.’1
John Kelly’s cows are one of the first concepts he explored as an artist and are without doubt the works from his oeuvre which have most successfully captured the public’s imagination. To Kelly, the story of Dobell’s cows was a bizarre and intriguing one – the artist deconstructed the events, depicting the theme in a variety of media: pencil studies, watercolours, oil paintings, small scale sculptures and very large scale sculptures.
The cow theme in Kelly’s work stems from his enduring interest in artist William Dobell’s (1899-1970) military experience and his role in the war effort. During World War II, the Camouflage Section of the Australian Defence Force employed many Australian artists including Ivor Francis (1906-1993) Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) and William Dobell (1899-1970). The task which Dobell had been given during this time was quite unlike most of his contemporaries – his artistic skills were put to good use when the young Dobell was employed in making life-size painted papier-mâché cows which were placed around field airports in the hope of hoodwinking Japanese pilots that were looking for Australian airbases. This bizarre bit of Australian history became the focus of the cow series of works – the absurdity of the camouflage scheme fascinated Kelly and now forms the foundation of what has become a significant part of his ouevre to date.
The present work, Blowin in the Wind (II) is a permutation of the theme - here, Kelly has played with the formal compositional elements. A wind sock is placed in the foreground of the airfield indicating a wind is blowing from the right. A large papier-mâché cow looms to the left – appearing to be blown into the air by the gust coming from the right. Kelly’s cows form jarring juxtaposition with the landscape and their shapes and placements seem to form a recurrent and persistent motif in Kelly’s mind.
Kelly has enjoyed much critical and commercial success with his cow works both in Australia and internationally. The artist’s large-scale cow sculptures have been exhibited widely in Australia and overseas: the Champs Elysées, Paris, in Les Champs de la Sculpture (1999); Monte Carlo, in La Parade des Animaux (2002); the MAMAC, Nice; The Hague (2007); Glastonbury, United Kingdom (2006 and 2007) and Cork city, Ireland (2011). His work is represented in major public art institutions in Australia and overseas and is sought after by many private collectors on the primary and secondary
1. John Kelly: Cow up a Tree, (exhibition catalogue) Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 1999
Caroline Jones BA, MArtAdmin