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Diarmuid Kelley – capturing the light of European painting

— January 2014

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Diarmuid Kelley, Indian Red

Diarmuid Kelley – Recent Work

24 January–28 February 2014

Modern British and Contemporary art gallery, Offer Waterman, is hosting a major solo exhibition of new works by Diarmuid Kelley.

From an early age, Kelley has stood apart from his peers. As a student, despite enjoying the prevailing mode of painterly abstraction, Kelley was more preoccupied by still life and portraiture. He has pursued these traditional disciplines with a keen awareness of contemporary art practice, creating paintings that are timeless in their appeal.

Kelley’s obsession with the use of light in European painting – in which he looks to Caravaggio’s  theatrical drama and Vermeer’s ethereal interiors – defines his oeuvre. His studio has been carefully adapted so that he can precisely control the quality of light. Recreating the methods used by Joseph Wright of Derby and countless Dutch painters of candlelit scenes, the artist has constructed a small enclosed room which has a window frame on one side exposed to strong daylight, while the other sides are curtained. By covering the window to different degrees, he achieves a dramatically darkened interior within which to create his compositions.

The work of Diarmuid Kelley is held in a variety of collections and institutions, notably the National Portrait Gallery, London; Chatsworth House; the private collection of Steven Spielberg; and the private collection of Lord Allen of Kensington and Michael Fisher. Awards include 1st prize at the NatWest Prize for Art in 1995, which made him the youngest-ever winner, and runner up for the BP Portrait Award in the same year. Each year, Kelley also undertakes a limited number of portrait commissions, often painted on location, which are produced in parallel to his studio work. In 2010 he was commissioned to paint Dame Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.

Throughout his career, Kelley has used the largely conservative genre of portraiture as a vehicle for a sophisticated kind of narrative painting. Those friends he uses as models form a cast of faces that reappear in paintings alongside a range of antique props and ageing studio furniture. Actress Olivia Williams, who has been cast in roles ranging from Regency beauty to contemporary femme fatale, has been a muse for many years.

Notable new works on display at Offer Waterman & Co will include Indian Red and The Thirty Years War. In Indian Red, Kelley presents elements of a domestic interior which call to mind the world of Victorian writer Edith Nesbitt’s stories for children – painted with a palette of colour and opulent detail that deliberately echoes the rich textures of masters such as Van Dyck and Ingres; the melancholy tone of the composition overall, however, carries a psychological weight that is starkly contemporary.

About the artist

Born in Stirling in 1972, Diarmuid Kelley grew up in the north of England and studied Fine Art at Newcastle University, graduating in 1995. He then went on to study for a Masters degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design.  

Kelley has a long-standing association with Offer Waterman & Co, having had five solo-exhibitions at the gallery. He has also recently participated in a number of other group exhibitions including ‘The Figure’ at Browse & Darby, London, ‘Hinterland’ at Thomas Williams, London and ‘Illuminate’, Jasmine Studios, Hammersmith, London.

Exhibition hours: Monday to Friday 10a.m. to 6p.m., Saturday 11a.m. to 4p.m.

Offer Waterman & Co
11 Langton Street London
SW10 0JL
e [email protected]
t +44 (0) 20 7351 0068

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