From Realism to Whimsy: The Drawings of Meelia Kelly

Meelia Kelly, COMPOSITION (TEETH AND PLUMAGE), 2005-2006, Coloured pencil, graphite and ink, 20 x 26 in.

Exhibition opened June 25, 2016

The 14 drawings in this exhibition span a brief six year period. Like her sister Sheojuk Etidloie, Kelly began drawing late in life. From her earliest works in 2001 to her death at age 66 in 2006, her drawing style evolved rapidly. Over a short time, she became more comfortable in manipulating composition, form and colour. Regardless of their date, each of these drawings is a true delight!

The earlier works are simple and carefully drawn; colour is applied sparingly. They feature recurring figurative and narrative imagery. Her concern for spatial placement is also apparent particularly in the way that she placed figures on the sheet or used landscape almost as a framing element to contain the image. This can be seen in Composition (Man with Dog Sled and Caribou). 

Moving from the early more realistic work, she gradually increased her use of colour and began to experiment with more abstract forms. These are centred, iconic images in muted complimentary colours. In some, there is no attempt to place the image into a landscape, such as in Composition (Seated Man). In others, more abstracted landscape forms still create a frame which then becomes an integral part of the image, rather than simply a spatial reference.  This is clearly seen in Composition (Man with Birds).

By 2005/6, Kelly’s fully developed style emerged. These later drawings are filled with fantastic bird creatures integrated into swirling, energetic compositions. These are bold and dynamic drawings. In addition to pencil crayon, she began to use ink to define the wings and tails of the birds and exaggerated these elements to create interwoven diagonal patterns. The drawing is then completed by the addition of areas of colour which define and add volume to the composition. In Composition (Birds Fighting), Kelly also uses ink in the bodies of the birds to indicate the texture of feathers before applying the coloured pencil. The effect of this is to create a greater sense of depth and vibrancy.

Her early death in 2006 sadly brought a halt to the artistic explorations of Meelia Kelly. But the whimsy, creativity and humour are still evident in the drawings that she left behind, as well as in the many prints which appeared the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collections from 2001 to 2006.

To view available artworks by Meelia Kelly, click here.