John Kelly is an acclaimed Australian contemporary artist who first achieved notoriety in the early 1990s with his famous Dobell’s cows series of paintings that culminated in the monumental sculpture 'Cow up a Tree' on the Champs Elysée, Paris in 1999.
But the world could well have missed seeing the talent of this artist had his mother not entered a “Win a Wish” competition run by a Melbourne radio station.
The story behind the “Win a Wish” is about John’s parents not having the financial resources to enable him to continue his fine arts course at RMIT University. Out of desperation his mother saw the “Win a Wish” competition entry form on a milk carton, filled it in and won.
The win covered the cost of the course, fares and fees that enabled John to return to his studies the following year. Now, over 30 years later John Kelly’s work can be found in art galleries around the world.
John’s parents migrated to Australia from the UK when he was six months old. Born in the UK to an Irish father and English mother, he scored the trifecta to become an Englishman, Irishman and Australian rolled into one.
Is it any wonder that he inherited an irreverent sense of humour that is clearly reflected in his work?
He embarked on his international career in his late 20s having won a Samstag scholarship that took him from Australia to UK and France, and now sees him living and working in Ireland. He has successfully exhibited in various major cities around the world including London, Paris, Melbourne, Monte Carlo, Dublin Guangzhou and even the famous Glastonbury music festival where his ‘Three Cows in a Pile’ monumental sculpture appeared in a music video by the Kaiser Chiefs.
John has wonderful stories about the conflicts that success brought on, including a five-year court battle in Paris and a duel with the Australia Council for the Arts where in challenging their proposal to ‘brand’ the arts in Australia he managed to create an iconic beer label for Moo Brew.
John Kelly has been called many things - whimsical, awkward, even a ‘f**khead’ by one wag at the Australia Council - but he is also so much more. He writes on art, makes sculpture and has represented Ireland in a major international biennale. His most recent work is painting West Cork landscapes.
He describes his career as a journey of luck, art, success, bitterness, conflict and humour which he says amounts to life being an artist.