I’m not a poet and I ’m considering oral communication as a sculpture. —Ian Wilson
Visual, textual, teaching portfolio site for installation artist Kathy Kelley, (Kathryn Kelley) - 'Being in the same space with Kathy Kelley’s art is like a visit to the elephant house: one marvels at the enormity, the textures, and the smell. Her work is excessive. In the five years she has been working as a sculptor, she has produced a shocking bulk of enormous pieces. Too big to lift, too dirty to handle, too ephemeral to keep, the exterior yard of her studio in Houston is fringed with hulking mounds of slowly degenerating rubber. What’s impressive about Kelley’s work is her frightening intensity of effort. Kathy Kelley’s materials are quintessentially trash: corroding inner tubes, blown-out tire treads, peeling boards and soggy mattresses. Like Rauschenberg’s rumpled packing boxes, these unappealing remnants are the background noise of contemporary urban experience. Kelley’s earliest works used materials with a functional utilitarian modesty: rough rope, galvanized pipe, cinder blocks. For Kelley, these objects represent an honest alternative to the mediated, hyped consumer culture against which she is rebelling. As her work evolved, her materials became more emphatically trashy. Black and ugly, dirty, crusted and odorous, Kelley’s works evoke a blasted apocalyptic landscape of post-consumer entropy. Describing her process as “a visceral reaction against the cult of the instant, the new, the forever young, forever fertile with its pushed up breast and swollen lips,” Kelley’s works carry a moralistic condemnation of waste, yet at the same time, offer redemption; salvaging utterly undesirable material and creating gnarly beauty. What is the human body but a rubbery tube? Kelley’s tire works have an appalling sensuality, with skins bound, squeezed and pierced by rusty baling wire. Deflated and flabby, Kelley’s tubular forms are sagging corseted breasts and flaccid, elephantine phalluses, withered by age, and black with sin. From the slimy toxicity of tiny invertebrates to the scabrous callosities of the rhinoceros, Kelley’s galumphing creations suggest the unpleasant side of living creation. Though they have the same flabby grunge as early Oldenburg soft sculptures, Kelley’s sculptures are utterly lacking in cute. The automotive origin and monumental scale of her truck-tube pieces is more like John Chamberlain’s formalized car-wreck sculptures, in which an aloof abstraction struggles with pop garbage. It’s tempting to assign Chamberlain and Kelley contrasting male/ female takes on the same boundless ocean of automotive waste. Chamberlain’s pieces are tense and energetic, lifting and thrusting angular fragments into space; Kelley’s pieces yield to gravity, flop and sag, falling easily into the tradition of feminist body-critique with Eva Hesse and Lee Bontecou. In My own lies swallow me , 2008, three roughly human-sized columns stand shrouded in dusty black rubber. Loops of baling wire pinch them painfully inwards at what might be necks, busts, waists, and ankles. Anonymous figures like standing mummies or body bags, they speak powerfully about constraint and regret. Kelley’s work is a workout: wrestling with heavy sheets of flabby rubber, scrawling closely-written text on 30 feet of blackboard, Kelley throws herself into her work in a literal, physical way, testing her limits both physically and spiritually. In 2006, she described hammering twenty-seven pounds of nails into tar-covered wood for her first painting: “Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar and nails for ten days straight, four to six hours a day, my physical limit.” In struggling with her work, Kelley externalizes an inner struggle with a dark world of repression and guilt; battling, prodding and constraining her ugly materials into metaphors for difficult emotional situations, using her art as a battering ram to push open the door to a new identity. Accustomed to continuous self-analysis, Kelley began a blog at about the same time she began thinking of herself as an artist. Tellingly, her first post, on December 17, 2006 is titled “Becoming unsafe.” The morethan- daily torrent of words and images (304 posts in 2009) that follow chronicle her headlong emergence. Then a graduate student in graphic design at the University of Houston, Kelley described her growing mania for raw experience. As she studied contemporary art, she says: “I found myself unable to simply respond to those works intellectually. I was compelled to make, and make is what I did. My first bastardization, a Pollock-de Kooning in under 5 minutes. Bad painting, combines, first generation feminism. Fast, freely. Pink—discovered spontaneously. House paint flying everywhere. Ruined pants. Ruined shirts. Ruined shoes. The sacredness of art demystified. It was OK to make bad art. I didn’t have to make something beautiful or meaningful. I just had to make. And I did. Making good. Making bad. Making. Concerned design professors averted their eyes from the accumulating pile of paintings in my small studio space.” Four solo shows in as many years, each crowded with enormous sculpture, three large-scale outdoor projects, and twenty group exhibitions since 2006 show the extent to which Kelley is still driven by the same manic impulse. Kelley’s rubber-inner tube works have always relied on a more-or-less revealed substructure, usually of rusting steel, that give her amorphous rubbery elements form. In these new works, Kelley replaces some of the steel framing with wood: evocative weathered bits of old houses that not only support her pieces physically, but also place rubber forms in a domestic context, encouraging one to read them as metaphors for family life. Kelley’s titles frame her work in terms of emotionally fraught relationships: two pieces hung back-to-back in a recent show were called: “Without your forgiveness I am still bound to what happened between us. Only you can set me free.” and “Betrayal is not so very far away; it comes from within me; does it come from within you.” In treading where no one hears the echo of her foot fall, old doors symbolize escape or entrapment, floorboards from a half dozen houses are pieced together to create an archetypal American home, a stage setting within and around which Kelley’s tire tube actors can gesture and squirm. Women and Their Work Essay by Bill Davenport, 2010'
Kathryn Kelley, Kathy Kelley
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