For Kevin Kelly, there’s more to art than what is focused on a canvas. It’s the spaces at the brink and just beyond the work that fascinate him. His latest exhibit, “From the Margins,” is a multi-faceted approach to pushing boundaries. It opens Friday at the Fiber Studio on Commerce Street.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the edges of paintings,” Kelly said. “I find that when I go to shows I tend to look at the edges of a work. I’m always interested in the point of where the art stops and where real life begins. That has lead me to think a lot about the margins of things.”
The show will feature a cross-section of colorfully juxtaposed works, including large paintings, a collection of drawings, sculptures and installation pieces, and even a surprisingly artful couch. In various fashions, all of the works revolve around the fringes of what constitutes art.
A micro-fiber couch from a Craigslist seller becomes a centerpiece of sorts for the show by the way it draws people in to question the object’s validity. Kelly decided to bring the piece of furniture “back from the margins” of being obsolete by engaging with his kids to paint it. After a coat of varnish and dozens of rainbow-swirled lines brushed onto the surface, the object has been repurposed. It’s still a functional sofa, but upon approaching it, one wonders if the multi-hued loveseat is more appropriate for lounging or for looking. Kelly is quick to point out that all who attend are welcome to take a seat on it.
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“I like the tension of people trying to figure out if they should sit on it. They approach and wonder if it’s a work of art or if it’s a painting,” he said.
Gravity and stratification also play prominent roles in the show with the arrangement of one 6-feet-by-6-feet and several 4-feet-by-4-feet acrylic paintings on paper that hang like tapestries. Each work contains layers of different colors that build upon each other to create the overall mood and theme of the painting. Often, these contrast with the mundane titles that accompany each work. “Canned Air Freshener and Bottled Water” evokes a lively, effervescent feeling, yet harkens to something more artificial.
A constant reminder of the show’s theme will be on full view via the installation piece that will be interspersed throughout the gallery. Several 2x4s constructed out of old issues of Art Forum magazine and formed with packing tape will lean on walls, hang from the ceiling, and be randomly placed to complement the other works. The pieces grew out of a frustration Kelly had while in graduate school.
“There was an expectation that you should read this magazine to stay up to date on what’s happening in the art world, but for an art student it’s kind of an attack to the senses to flip through and see so many different artists and try to process who you are creatively,” he said. “I built up a lot of angst just flipping through.”
To contain his own understanding of what was happening, he cut out gestures from the magazine and built units out of them, emulating 2x4 pieces of wood. He said the piece solidifies the feelings of insecurity, apathy and uncertainty.
Kelly grew up in Wichita and got his undergraduate degree from Wichita State University in art education. He’s been an art instructor at Wichita West High School for 12 years. Five years ago, he returned to his alma mater to get an MFA. He’s exhibited at several galleries in Wichita and a few out of state. His works also have been included in such publications as New American Paintings and Studio Visit magazine. He said that he enjoys working with his students, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, because he likes seeing them channel that experience into something positive through their art.
“I hope people are challenged about how art can be presented, challenged about where to look for an artistic experience,” he said. “I like the in-between moments that people never see as aesthetically pleasing. I like trying or figure out how can this become an interesting, if not beautiful, experience.”