Sharon Kelly at ArtisAnn Gallery Belfast, May 4-27 2017

Sharon Kelly watercolours with graphite  form a half of two persons exhibition titled Dissolving into ambiguity  with Lenka Davidikova( b 1980, Dolny Kubin,  Slovak Republic).  Both  graduated from the University of Ulster – 26 years apart.

I have written about Kelly’s drawings and video  before, this little collection marks a shift towards poetic freedom, freedom offered to and by complex ideas visible as a transportable object.


Half Hand, 2017, watercolour, graphite. 41 x 31 cm

Meditation.  Drawing a drawing. The process is opened bare, equivalent to the fragment of the motif, the marks flow on the hand  and forearm, and next to  and around, as if  competing how much each dares to escape the duty of describing.

Sharon Kelly, Cave, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48x40cm

The distinction between the noun “drawing” and the verb, is meaningful. Once explicit as duration, as process, with a beginning and an end, and once as stasis, a stable moment  when the past  becomes the present and the future.  Once observed or imagined, the motif  determines  the mortality of  other  variations, hinted at by abrupt cuts or empty areas. Both watercolour and graphite  offer generously fluent suggestion of what is not optically there. Conversely, the anatomy while madly disturbed, still  holds to life.  The headless torso  is like a flat, fluid “garment”.   The  voluminous blue selfportrait  suggests depth.       The  convincing charcoal outlines  and modelling  follow the obedient observation of arms and hands  with  confident denial when, for example,  the outline of the  left arm is visible through the   right hand’s fingers.  It is real, but only as a dream is real.


Sharon Kelly, Blue Cloud, 2017, watercolour and graphite, 48 x 40 cm

Habitually – blue sky is behind  white clouds. Poetical visual trope reverses that, the cloud being blue and sky “white” or near white. And the “cut-off” hand is alive and caressing the air as if not wishing to catch the blue apparition; rather it looks as if the hand gently released that fluffy blue.

Drawing as a verb inhabits immaterial world. It prefers the world of thoughts to that of objects. Jealously, it is ephemeral, guiding its privacy, and at times it is impossible to apprehend it by senses. Hands can draw in the air leaving no trace, yet transporting an instruction or expression. Issuing sheer joy  of co-existence of a blue blob with the anatomically correct hand –  the hand treats the cloud as it would treat a butterfly – afraid that touching it will disable it.

Kelly offered an insight:

“…the animation work took place over a number of months and it meant I had to shut all daylight out of the studio to keep the artificial light constant for stop motion work. It was one charcoal drawing that changed, slowly so the whole process is very slow and can be almost impossible to work gesturally. From the middle of March I was able to lift the window coverings and clear the space and explore imagery with watercolour and pencil. So the watercolour work was like a flash of spontaneity in approach! The animation was for a projection for a dance production, a project I have been involved with for about 3 years and explored the territory of grief over time. “(email to me  15th May 2017).

Indeed grief is not an object….


In his essay ‘On Being Modern-Minded’ (1950), Bertrand Russell describes a particularly seductive illusion sensual and  intellectual progress. Because every age tends to exaggerate its uniqueness and imagine itself as a culmination of progress, continuities with previous historical periods are suppressed: ‘new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own.’

Kelly’s use of a blue  as a fragment of sky,or of a head or a hand as a fragment of her own body,  invite comparison with a very well known drawing of hands  by  Albrecht Durer.  Like Durer she  confidently  places a  fragment of the living form into a viewing frame. Both ground the meaning in a state of mind when it escapes the uncertainties of daily life.

Albrecht Durer, Study, 1508, 29×19 cm, pen and ink, Albertina, Vienna, accessed on Wikipedia

There is a habitual hierarchy between the  drawing  as a work of art  and a drawing as a study. Both Durer and   Kelly  cherish the responsiveness of drawing to hold its truth without becoming a servant to any one truth. Both  give the viewer a freedom to complete  what is visible by what he or she imagines.  And that is, as Giordano Bruno advises ” a bottomless well”. Durer  connects the hands with status and the belief in a superior being.  Kelly’s connection  is grounded here but sends empathy over there into the universe.

Sharon Kelly, In the Rain Cloud, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48x 40 cm

Image of grief? Image of empathy?  It seems to oscillate, preventing me to be sure, except that the graduated definition  of the watercolour mark  moves  from a standing firmly on the ground to an attack by emotion that disintegrates the  head and part of one arm…  The darkened volume of clashed fists belongs to despair.


Sharon Kelly, Vein, 2017, watercolour, wax, graphite, 48×40

The materials are promiscuous. Making mark with whatever is willing to do that on the ground of choice is not an anthropocentric act, it appears across the animal kingdom. The same tone of a hue expresses despair and resolve  in relation to different outlines that are “carved” either from a light or darkness. It activates  our cognitive faculties, invention, daring, scaring, feeling, intuitive guessing. It marks territory of invention that is mute, visual. In the next image – a memory of a dancing ballerina… both wet and dry outlines are obedient and enclose the from with clarity.

Sharon Kelly, 2017, Ochre Dress, watecolour, graphite, 61×51 cm

A drawing becomes sometimes evidence or a witness – like the print of  hands on the prehistoric rock face.

Pech Merle, East from Cahors, accessed on Wikipedia

Drawings addresses us as individuals, secretly offering seductive respect as a bribe. They flaunt their beauty, intelligence, even their hidden sources, through the rhythm of the trace and its tone. Even when there is a story, it is secondary. The viewer is invited to make up hers or his own.

Sharon Kelly, Ghost Dress, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 61 x 51 cm

This reminds me of August Rodin’s drawings  of dancers made  after 1906:He is quoted as saying

I invent nothing, I rediscover.
The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation

courtesy of Musee Rodin, Paris

The lines and texture are the main message, however much they pretend to be just messengers. Drawing is gloriously free – any size, any material, any subject, from a sketch for a monumental building to an acute observation of a fly, to a definition of the plant atlas, to private loving greetings. Apollo or Dionysius? A wrong question. How much of each is in each drawing is the correct one. It is the classical Greek moira, a measure, of each that differentiates the characters of drawings. Rodin is reported saying  that the Cambodian Dancers made him think of antiquity.

I sense complicity in these drawings between silent observation and mute inner world to make all over perspective  redundant –  or at least discreet.

Sharon Kelly, Dust, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48 x 40cm

Some drawings  do not like to be an end  – they wish to serve as a seedbed of different meanings. What is it like to despair? What is it like to feel happy? Human condition opposes certainty ( with the exception of death, which seems to tower over this image). The nurtured faith in the benevolence of fate recedes to allow uncertainty as a subject matter in.

Some  drawings submit their force to a fresco or concrete and glass, or stone and bronze, other drawings, Kelly’s drawings amongst them,  confidently stand alone: I am who I am. Let your senses and mind resonate with what you look at. There are treasures to be had.




Images courtesy Sharon Kelly and the gallery ArtisAnn unless otherwise credited above.

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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