Anthony-Noel Kelly   artist profile

Anthony-Noel Kelly is an internationally exhibited and renowned fine art painter, sculptor and installation artist with an unparalleled body of exhibited work that spans over 40 years.


Early years and artistic beginnings

Anthony-Noel Kelly was born 1955 in London, the second of seven siblings, six brothers and one sister. Kelly grew up at the family home in Romden, Kent and it was here that he and his seven siblings built a makeshift art studio in the cellar. They were encouraged by their parents to explore and express their creative side often crafting presents rather than purchasing them for birthday and Christmas. This fostered in him a very early affinity with creating art that would grow into a binding and lifelong commitment. A self-proclaimed non-academic, he sought refuge in the art studio, away from the conventionally tiresome task of attending school at Worth Abbey, Sussex.


It wasn’t long after this at the age of 18 that Kelly began work on a three-year apprenticeship for Bettina Jessel, a well-respected picture conservator and restorer specialising in Dutch works from the 17th century. This dipped Kelly’s toes further into the art world and was followed by a year abroad working for museums in Germany and Belgium. Upon his return he declared his interest in beginning life as a professional painter, having been encouraged to paint by Francis Bacon.


From a young age Kelly had held a fascination for the physical body and anatomy - often participating in country shoots, the subsequent skinning and gutting of prey inspiring a profound understanding of the cycle of life and death through deconstruction and reconstruction - that would follow him through his creative journey as a constant and evolving theme. Anecdotally, for meals his mother always kept any cutting of meat, be it chicken or beaf, to be left for her inquisitive son. Thus, pending acceptance into a school of art in London, Kelly pursued his artistic fascination with organic matter and broadened his study by working in an abattoir in Kent and a butchers in London, often painting and photographing there. He spent four months in Co. Wexford, Ireland, living alone and painting industriously, managing his first self portrait.


From 1982-1987, Kelly was accepted and attended The City and Guilds of London Art School, spending two years in the painting department and two in the sculpture department, thereby adding another string to his creative bow. It was after graduating that Kelly began work on more time-consuming art projects, especially sculptures. In 1991 he was able to exhibit the fruits of his labour for the first time in the ‘Art Express’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London, where he displayed two sculptures with casts of animal bones. This would begin a journey of international exhibiting that would see Kelly’s work shown in the UK, Ireland, France and Spain. 


It was in the years 1993-4, that Kelly learnt to flay and preserve animals such as horses and cows to create more developed and accurate sculptures, including ‘Fortune’s Frolic’ a circular composition of animal skulls collected from Wales. He was always as an artist dedicated to verisimilitude, the portrayal of life in its truest and most real form and as such a refection that is often both arresting and memorable. He embraces this concept by painting and sculpting from all forms of life and death, at all stages of growth and decomposition. Shunning the idealised form, Kelly brings us face to face with the fragility of ourselves and our interdependence with nature. Having been invited to Basingstoke Hospital by the renowned surgeon Dr Bill Heald to illustrate an innovative technique of operating on colorectal cancer, Kelly was introduced to the Royal College of Surgeons in London. It was here that he was reminded of the time 20 years ago that he witnessed both open heart and cranial surgery at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital.


It was at the RCS that Kelly came into contact with specimens of preserved human remains. He became fascinated - as have many artists and scientists before him, beset by the curiosity of the human body in search of a greater understanding of the self - and began by drawing, modelling in wax, and eventually acquiring some of these specimens in order to create sculptures. Albeit though the risk and the consequences did not seem so grave at the time, Kelly would soon outrage the sensitivities of some and create a stir. This form of artistic provocation was narrowed in on when displaying ‘Head and Torso’ at the The London Contemporary Art Fair in 1997, the origins of the piece being called into question. Kelly was hoping, thus, to frame anatomy in a historical context and instead naively fell foul of his own artistic eagerness and devotion. He served a brief sentence for the misappropriation of property, in a precedent-setting case that seemed to many an unfair exaggeration of circumstances. During his time paying his debt, he survived the shadow of the experience by sketching the portraits of fellow inmates. Even in his dark hour, the artistic impulse was still as effervescent and spared him from mistreatment.


New beginnings

Not deterred by this misfortune, his artistic focus was drawn to a new project as he began searching for over a hundred individuals to complete his ‘Birthdays’ piece, a collection of black and white nude photographs spanning a lifetime of ages, a cross section of diverse and unembellished forms. This work was exhibited in 1999 at the 291 Gallery, London.


In 2000 Kelly married and moved to Cork, Ireland, to experience life outside of the city, to be at one with and further immerse himself in nature. Though this was an ideal spot for sourcing fish and birds - even managing to work flaying cows and sheep in a local hunt kennel - after the birth of their first child, seeking a warmer climate `Kelly and his family moved in 2003 to France, swiftly followed by the arrival of a second child.


2005-2007 Kelly worked on his painted portrait project ‘The Three Ages of Man’, reminiscent of themes earlier expressed in ‘Birthdays’. Another ongoing installation during his time in France were constructed images of flowers, insects, and food. As an artist often he favoured a reclusive lifestyle, free to collect, create and show his work. However, in 2015 responsibilities and awareness for the need to mix in the British art scene he returned to the UK with his family, residing in Suffolk. He now lives and works London.


In recent years Kelly has been inspired anew by untapped themes of religion and spirituality, often focussing on painted portraiture and cultural sculptures, describing this in part as a loss of ego and a way of finding greater depth. As his artistic gaze is realigned onto themes so relevant in today’s disturbed and uncertain world stage, a touching intuition can be found as he once again holds up a mirror and this time shows our oneness, the universality of emotion and religious messages across the world.


One such project started in 2013 and completed in 2016 was ‘Gods & Men’, bibles and sacred texts of the world’s major religions - including atheist texts - sourced, arranged and exhibited together, suggesting in the artist’s own words -

‘… a common understanding of faith and spiritual belief, an interfaith reunion. The fact that all religions agree in the common quest for happiness and the end of suffering yet have independent ways of dealing with this intrigues me’.


The project was naturally accompanied by another, ‘The Meeting of the Prophets’, whereby figurines representing different faiths were also collected and displayed in accordance with the themes of universality and union. The celebration of life through his art continues to drive and sustain him.


Kelly’s current work came about whilst interviewing heads of faith for ‘Gods & Men’ and involves a series of oil portraits of the figureheads of different religions, heads bowed in prayer and thought. He speaks of portraiture as an experience of discovery, ‘it can provide an intimate knowledge of the human condition, the face a palette of emotions to fathom’. The crossover of Kelly’s ability to portray his subject in its truest light and the spiritual context make for insightful vignettes of faith that question the viewer on our differences and our sameness. With questions that must be asked in society today Kelly’s art offers once more a mirror, a frame, moments of reflection.

During the last two years Kelly lived in Italy completing a series of 18 portraits of refugee immigrants called ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’. At the same time he completed a triptych of three fishermen called ‘le tre eta di uomini’, the three ages of man


During the last two years Kelly lived in Italy completing a series of 18 portraits of refugee immigrants called ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’. At the same time he completed a triptych of three fishermen called ‘le tre eta di uomini’, the three ages of man