Wednesday, 19 January 2011
In 1988 I wrote a letter to artist Percy Kelly asking if he would have an exhibition at Castlegate House. His vehement refusal arrived by return on a sheet of paper with a lovely drawing on it. There was no way he was going to have an exhibition anywhere he wrote but he added that he did want to be famous after his death. funny that- most artists are desperate for fame in their lifetimes. But then PK was no ordinary artist. So I took up the baton determined to promote him after he had departed this world.
He died 15 years ago and I have at last delivered!
Last Tuesday, in a large gallery room, thick with the scent of flowers, I watched red spot after red spot appear on his paintings. This was in Messums Gallery in Cork Street London. Percy had made it!
Melvyn Bragg was an early visitor, Rosanna of the Purple House in Newlands, a couple who had queued outside my gallery all night in 1998 to buy a Kelly, a director of Sekers Silk who had encouraged him in the sixties and many many more crowded into the room.
On Monday17th an article in The Spectator headed MORE REAL ART PLEASE written by art critic Andrew Lambirth praised Percy's work and lauded the exhibition.
I have no hesitation in recommending the work of Percy Kelly (1918–93). Kelly was a strange and somewhat tortured man who also happened to be a brilliant draughtsman. Not many people in his lifetime knew this because he refused to exhibit or sell his work, and used to hide it away if even an admiring visitor (such as L.S. Lowry) came to call; he was convinced that Lowry would steal his ideas. Born in Workington, Cumberland, Kelly managed to exile himself from his beloved home-county — partly through a temperamental inability to earn money — first to Pembrokeshire and finally to Norfolk. The best of Kelly’s output is the grand series of powerfully mesmeric charcoal drawings he made in the late-1950s, mostly of landscape. They bear comparison with the cream of Sheila Fell’s work (which he knew and admired), but have a solidity and conviction, an earthbound magic, which is all his own.
He also got half a page in the Eastern Daily Press. Ian Collins wrote
Kelly's exquisite drawings and paintings soar above his muddle and trauma of his life in a final note of triumph
Hey - this is not the end - the best is yet to come!
Saturday, 8 January 2011
Percy Kelly was a chaotic, sexually confused transvestite postman who could paint and draw like an angel (can angels draw I ask myself?). He died in 1993 aged 76 in abject poverty in a Norfolk cottage stuffed with paintings - his life's work.
He was very retentive about his work, hated anyone seeing or touching it. If he sold a piece because he had no alternative - he would often ask for it back later. (don't think that one worked very often!)
After he died intestate in 1993 I managed to secure the estate and get the work brought back to his beloved county Cumberland (and there's a whole other story!). Since then I have promoted his work constantly, staged seven exhibitions at Castlegate House, had big queues outside before a show and watched people fall in love with the work. I am always thankful to survive an opening without being beaten up because feelings run high. Gradually his name has become known and his work respected and in demand. I am currently writing his biography which is all-absorbing. I am a woman obsessed!
On November 19th 2009 London gallery owners, David Messum and Carol Tee came up to Cockermouth to see us and we had lunch in the Trout Hotel which had just been awarded 4* and discussed a possible future joint exhibition. The following day the hotel was under water. The Derwent had burst its banks and flooded the town. Residents had been lifted out into lifeboats in their jamas and the bar and dining room where we had been sitting were destroyed. It took more than 6 months and several million pounds to put it back together again in business.
Messums were distressed to hear the news and immediately offered us the gallery in January 2010 for Percy Kelly, Sheila Fell and farmer's wife Karen Wallbank. We accepted gratefully. Messums is situated in Cork Street the epicentre of 20th Century Art directly behind the Royal Academy in London.
The star of the show was Kelly and I was delighted to be invited back to set up a Kellysolo show there this January. So nect Tuesday, opening night, we are off to London on the train to once again unleash Percy on London. Messums have produced a beautiful catalogue and I have accompanied the illustrations with an extended essay on the art and life of Percy Kelly. We are meeting up with old friends, London based clients and will have 5 fun packed days in the capital. Messums tell me they have sold 5 paintings already before it has even begun. That's a good omen.
I'll keep you posted.