While Fiona Kelly defines herself as a storyteller, she is also a meticulous artist. Through her work, she questions our relationship to the built and natural environment.
Born and raised in Westmeath, she witnessed the extensive housing boom which was omnipresent in Ireland between 1999 and 2007. On average, 75,000 homes were built each year and the number of mortgage loans which were granted exploded. The rise in real estate could not last and a price crash hit in 2009, causing a countrywide economic crisis. Today, a significant proportion of new homes are vacant, while others in rural or suburban areas are left unfinished. Each subsequent trip she made to attend Artist residencies in China, the United States, Finland amongst others, became further evidence for Kelly of man’s contempt for the environment. The unwavering metamorphoses of landscapes leading to pollution and the degradation of natural spaces, was not a local, but global issue.
Through her work she reminds us, that the process of man is, like everything else, destined to deteriorate. By depicting ruins, abandoned spaces and eroded buildings invaded by a resurgent nature, she illustrates the phenomenon of entropy, affirming the constant and cyclical repetition of decomposition and rebirth. Construction materials and industrial waste harvested from various decrepit sites are at the centre of her work, both in material and as in subject matter. Foraged limestone dust form wall frescos, waste materials are solidified in concrete, plywood boards become canvases for overlooked and printed with tar. These compositions give materials a new life force, questions posed through artistic enquiry, a narrative to the everyday discarded object.
The subject of these works is the landscape observed during the artist’s meandering walks in the city and countryside. Armed with a camera and a notebook, she records and archives every detail, each minute element which attracts her attention. She also feeds on the works of artists and writers such as Robert Smithson and Lucy Lippard, pioneers in the defence of the environmental cause. Once an idea has germinated, there follows a long period of study in which the work is formulated in all aspects. Each work implements a technique: etching, relief printmaking, drawing, sculpture, video, photography and installation, depending on how the story is to be told.
A favourite technique of Fiona Kelly however, remains relief printmaking. She appreciates the process and the graphic rendering of the medium. It is a technique that she has also often taught to adults and children in some of Cork’s main artistic institutions (Cork Printmakers, Glucksman Gallery and the Crawford College of Art & Design). In 2018, she taught several primary school classes dry point etching. The students addressed climate and environmental issues in making the work. This was part of the Glucksman Gallery’s project entitled “The Classroom Museum” curated by Tadhg Crowley.
Kelly will speak at the National Gallery of Ireland in April 2019, to accompany the exhibition “Making their Mark: Irish Painter-Etchers 1880-1930” with a thematic devoted to contemporary printmaking and its expanded field.
Presented internationally, Fiona Kelly’s works are visible in many public institutions, such as The National Gallery of Ireland, University College Cork and the Jyväskylä Museum of Art in Finland.
Rachel Chenu – 2019
(Article in French on Pausart.fr)