Organized by the Contemporary Artist Program of the Charles H. Wright Museum, Portrayals of Life and Landscapes: The Art of Frank Kelley, Jr. features more than 30 of Kelley’s paintings. His art incorporates numerous styles and subjects. Primarily a regional painter, he draws upon sources from his roots in North Central Louisiana. The people, places, and events that he experienced while growing up in this culturally rich area inspired his work. Using his signature style of layering white paint over dark, he adds perspective and details that catches the eye. In the genre painting, “Last Pickin’” Kelley features several African Americans working in a cotton field. He groups them in the foreground, with the implements of their trade, in close proximity to the viewer who is drawn in, for want of a closer look at the scene.
For Kelley, everything from the mundane to the dramatic is a potential them for the three and four paintings that he works on simultaneously. For example, in the painting “Where Are We Going?” the church, with its closed doors, seems out of touch with the needs of its parishioners who stand across from it, lost and in need of direction. In “Makin’ of the Blues,” on the other hand, the entertainers evince a spirituality that has been passed down from generation to generation. “Before and After the Storm” represents the resilience of a people who have continuously faced terrifying tempests—emotional and physical—and survived to live and work another day.
Born in Jackson Parish, Louisiana, Kelley graduated public school and attended Grambling State University, where he attained his Bachelor of Arts & Science degree and minored in art. For twenty years, he worked as a car salesman, and created his art at night. Exhibiting widely, he began to gain wide acclaim. He has been featured in the Los Angeles, Panache, and Louisiana Life magazines, and his work can be found in numerous private collections. He has earned many accolades and awards, including the Spirit of Detroit Award. While Kelley has gained significant recognition as an artist, he finds the work that he does with children just as gratifying if not more so. In 2001, he founded the Youth Arts Initiative, a program to help children learn about their heritage as well as alternative career choices through art. Not only does he offer this opportunity to children in his local community, he has provided workshops throughout the country.