Paper was scarce. As a child, Mary A Kelly "defaced the inside front and back pages of all my parents' books". Her subject? "Always people. It was a sort of compulsion."
Decades later, with a BA in Psychology and Philosophy, a Diploma in Fine Art and a Film Degree, an MA in Fine Art, and several awards (including Student of the Year Award, EV+A award, Irish American Art Award, the Markievicz Gold Medal, the RCSI Art Award), Mary A Kelly's work is truly multi-media.
Oil on canvas to begin, then lens-based artwork. "In 1996, I started to play with video and sound. This was comparatively new at the time and I was curious. I found my subject matter at times overwhelmingly subjective and lens-based media allowed a coolness or distance as a filter or formal contrast."
During the Noughties, Kelly created five "profoundly challenging and therefore rewarding" lens-based projects: The Landing explored how prisoners in Portlaoise prison created a home in their cells as "an integral part of survival"; Asylum focused on St Mary's psychiatric hospital, Mayo, as it was closing down, on the marks left behind made by the patients.
Port-a-loo graffiti prompted Pillars.
"Made during the rise of the Celtic Tiger and finishing just as the bust happened, I looked at the large-scale momentum of the process of building and the raw crude force underlying the building blocks, the allure of the promise and the stopping of the fairground ride at the end."
And the most memorable graffito?
"Amongst all the crude drawings, slogans, slagging and sexual references, the words 'I wish I were homeward bound' stood out."
I believe, help my unbelief charted "the Angels Plot in Glasnevin, the grave as the final 'home' we inhabit and the dedication of families to baby graves in particular. Sadly, I witnessed in the final year of my project the bulldozing of those graves to create a 'nice clean garden'," she says.
"Parents stayed overnight for many weeks to try and stop it. I watched people walking the steps from the wall so that they would have some idea of where their child lay.
And Father and Child captured "the powerful symbolic reason for somebody getting a tattoo, the relationship between some men and their children".
But Kelly has returned to painting and this work, Cry Freedom, "is a reminder of frailty, ill health and dependency. A wheelchair is a loaded gun. It is a cumbersome creature. And so I felt when I was introduced to them through my father with Parkinson's, my brother, Paul, with MS and another brother, Ciaran, with a stroke. As I came to terms with their realities over several years, and particularly with the help of my brother Paul, I began to see the chair's power and strength."
Through a lens, "I am at a remove from my subject. The process of painting comes directly from me, up my arm and through my fingers. I am physically involved. To use a cliché, I am more hands on.
"In a strange way I also feel more fallible, and that's no harm. I make my own mark directly. Not an easy item to negotiate and the act of painting helped me face it. Unconsciously, I chose to compose and paint it full frontal. I realised that as I was painting it. I wanted to keep the paintwork as still as possible."
And the title, Cry Freedom?
"Between the painting and the title, there is a void, or gap, and I want the viewer to project into that space."
These chairs "are the holding blocks for the passage of people, time, self and life. I hope there is room for everything and anything in those spaces".
And why empty?
"The empty chair has possibility and becomes an object for projection. By leaving the chair empty there's more of a question rather than an answer.
"There is a restraint by not painting people and yet people are implied despite their absence."
marykelly.ie Currently exhibiting 'Chair' in lockdown mode in Galerie Voss, Dusseldorf, Germany and completing a commission for the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin
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