Completed two years after Adrian Kellard received a diagnosis of HIV, this work and the following one translate into visual terms the feelings of disbelief, despair, and frustration that often accompanied the then-terminal illness. Head I and Head II evoke emotional tension not only in the figures’ downcast eyes and blank stare as well as the strained lines that shade their faces, but also in terms of contrasts: deep black outlines versus vibrant colors, the skillfull handling of line versus a deliberately crude carving technique, and smooth planes of flat color versus the background’s rough-hewn texture. The result is an unsettling mix of decorative appeal and intense emotional charge.
Kellard, who grew up in a working-class Roman Catholic family, stated that he created his carvings out of “conviction and a lot of hope.” His repetitive working method in Heads I and II—using an X-acto knife, he made hundreds of shallow gouges in a soft pine panel and then coated the raised areas with bright, expressive hues of latex house paint—produces a rhythmic patterning that imparts a meditative quality. The ready availability and familiar, everyday nature of Kellard’s materials, combined with the rugged simplicity of his carving style, give these works a sense of unintimidating accessibility. While Kellard’s carvings recall the work of folk artists and artisans, they also attest to the artist’s ability to integrate his art-historical knowledge into his own personal artistic vision. Kellard’s style is indebted to that of his onetime teacher Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt—a pioneer of personal religiosity in 1970s Pattern and Decoration art. Heads I and II also bear a strong resemblance to the woodcut prints of Erich Heckel, a founding member of the Die Brücke group of German Expressionists who found inspiration in medieval and renaissance art. Yet in inverting the roles of positive and negative space found in traditional woodcut printing and brushing bright-colored paint onto his panel’s raised surfaces rather than inking them in a single color, Kellard creates a whimsical, intimate, and unique reinterpretation of a storied art form.
By Shauna Young, former Intern, Grey Art Gallery