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Biography: Daniel KELLY (ダニエル-ケリ)

Daniel Kelly self-portrait
Daniel Kelly self-portrait, 2006
Lithograph, woodblock, hand coloring, chine-collé


Daniel Kelly signature 2000Daniel Kelly (pronounced Danieru Keri ダニエル-ケリ) was born in 1947 in Great Falls, Montana, was raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received BFA and MS degrees in Oregon (University of Portland and Portland State University). He then moved to San Francisco, where he produced ceramics and blown glass before studying romantic-expressionist painting with Morton Levin (born 1923).

Kelly relocated to Kyoto in 1977 to study printmaking with Tokuriki Tomikichirô (徳力富吉郞 1902-2000) and has remained there ever since. Tokuriki accepted Kelly as a student for three months and then acted as an advisor for years afterward. It was from Tokuriki that Kelly learned the techniques of traditional woodblock printing.

Kelly now works in a variety of media, including woodblock prints, lithography, etching, cement-relief block prints, mixed-media prints, and painting. The latter often goes far beyond oils applied to planar surfaces, but rather incorporates wood, encaustic, bamboo mats, tatami, linen, and a variety of fibers in sculptural-like constructions. Kelly's website states, "Paintings are rendered in acrylic on hand-made Nepalese paper on theatre-dimensional sculpted panels that appear to change when viewed from different angles." Kelly has said, "I prefer a paper that's difficult to work with because of the character it leaves behind."

Daniel Kelly cranes vaseOften unconventional in his printmaking and paintings. Among his distinctive techniques is a method of making block prints by applying a wet-cement and polyvinyl-glue mixture to a wooden plank and sculpting it into a raised surface to hold ink for printing. A 35-year retrospective solo exhibition at the Hanga Ten Gallery, London in November 2014 was titled "Daniel Kelly: Fish out of water." He says, "Mostly, I have an idea about what I want to do and then I go out and find sources so I can make it."

His themes feature quiet landscapes, bold still lifes, portraits, carp (koi, 鲤), paper lanterns (chôchin, 提灯), and ceramic bowls. Kelly began making prints of Japanese paper lanterns in 1984 in New York City. The earliest among these were lithographs with chine-collé. He has gone on to make a total of 23 print editions on the subject, with possibly more to come. Regarding koi, of which Kelly has made eight print designs and various paintings, "Carp have abstract expressionist paintings on their backs. That gave me an excuse to paint them." His first print of koi was "The Secret" in 1994 combining lithography and concrete relief printing on Nepalese paper. As for portraits, Kelly has said that, "I really believe if you are going to be depictive, ultimately the most interesting subject is people."

For his ceramic bowls, Hollis Goodall, in her introduction to the book Daniel Kelly: An American Artist in Japan (Kodansha, 2010), describes Kelly's methodology: "Kelly's approach to the bowl started with depiction of the basic ceramic form, drawing its outlines with quick, simple strokes then employing contrasts of light and dark to sculpt the hollowed-out shape. He began to play with the perceived visual distortion of the bowl's ornamented painted motifs as they curve away and out of sight of the viewer. The motifs he drew on the faces of the bowls, which he combined from details of objects observed in museums or seen in art books, were appealing to Kelly as subject matter, but played a more critical role in his compositions as vehicles for experimenting with distortion, complex layering of shapes and textures, and gestural brushwork. In the reflective surfaces of the bowls, sometimes a photographer's flash or overhead light can be detected, and in those depictions that closely follow a known masterwork, even the speed of the potter's wheel and brush are retained in Kelly's image."

Kelly has often applied Edo-period book pages to his prints using a chine collé method. Hollis Goodhall wrote in 2010 that, "The written contents of the pages are of no consequence to Kelly in his conception of a piece; rather, the varying styles and density of calligraphy or illustration play against the imagery of the overall print purely as a design element." 

Note: The text on this web page is adapted from John Fiorillo's summary on Kelly: