Brendan Kelly, though a member of the Royal Society of Portrait artists, paints pictures of a much greater complexity than the title ‘portrait artist’ might suggest. While his website talks rather pretentiously of portraiture as a means to understanding that most trendy of topics in art schools, the human condition, Kelly’s paintings do in fact seem to explore something about how we interact and view each other in the contemporary world.
He does this mostly through the use of light. Now light has been a fascination for artists for centuries, what make’s Kelly different is that he aims to capture light that is particulare to the modern world. The harsh artificial lights of the modern world have a different psycholigical impact to the soft almost spiritual light of the natural world.
Strip lighting, light-emitting coke machines, and bright sunlight divided into sharp regular areas by windows all put Kelly’s work in a resolutely 21st century setting. To me, his work seems to suggest how all these artificial light can be blinding, preventing communication. In some paintings, the faces are hard to make out, being outshone by the bright light nearby. There is an stifling awkwardness and a buzzing stillness that one finds in Hopper’s great works. The figures seem unsatisfied with the space in which they find themselves.