Surrealism Leon Kelly

Leon Kelly (October 21, 1901 – June 28, 1982) was an American artist born in Philadelphia, PA. He is most well known for his contributions to American Surrealism, but his work also encompassed styles such as Cubism, Social Realism, and Abstraction. Reclusive by nature, a character trait that became more exaggerated in the 1940s and later, Kelly’s work reflects his determination not to be limited by the trends of his time. His large output of paintings is complemented by a prolific number of drawings that span his career of 50 years. Some of the collections where his work is represented are: The Metropolitan Museum in New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Boston Public Library.

 One of the hallmarks of Kelly’s surrealist work are the enormous mosquitos that stalked the canvases. These gigantic insects and their surroundings are meticulously rendered, giving plausibility to the idea that they may, in fact, exist in some undiscovered landscape. One had only to spend a summer evening outdoors in Southern New Jersey to appreciate that the size of these creatures was in part an allegory for their relentless savagery. While mosquitos dominated Kelly’s Surrealist work, other creatures began to appear such as beetles, birds and, later, a horses in a series of drawings made for his daughter Paula, (“The Butterfly Horse, Birth of Pegasus”, 1952)

 As Kelly settled into life on the island his work continued to evolve. His relationship with nature intensified and the impressions from it were woven into the several series of paintings: Return and Departure, and the Lunar series. The Return and Departure series was done in the mid 1940s as a reaction to the seasonal ebb and flow of life on the barrier island, the flow of tides, the migration of birds and butterflies and the influx of summer visitors who retreated again in the Fall. Birds in particular begin to appear in his work as symbolic of the fugitive and ephemeral. “Birds and their mystic and silent relationship to the elements. They come and go like the spiritual counterparts of human beings. Down out of infinite space to stand for a moment like the apparition of the soul.” He further wrote “People who come to me from a thin thread and then leave and in their departure diminish to a fine thread. These paintings were made on the seaboard and relate to a feeling of people coming and going away from a little platform in eternity and infinite space.” See “Atlantic Pastorale”, 1944, which is a preliminary sketch for a painting of the same name done in 1945. Abstract representations of figures vary in size and are scattered across the page to denote the appearance of their approach and departure.Wikipedia

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