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Jeff Kell.

JEFF KELL SCULPTS CLASSICAL SHAPES THAT ARE DECORATED with a carved universe where animals are always wise, and humans chase the twin gods of greed and ignorance, self-destruct and take the environment with them. His stories are in black and white--no shades of gray, thank you very much. The sculptures look so dignified, so stately, that it takes a few seconds to hear the POW! BAM! BLAM! His technical virtuosity takes centre stage but, soon enough, the truth is revealed: those beautiful amphoras that he so skilfully builds are merely shells. Kell is a cartoonist. And a moralist at that.

Kell was one of six artists selected to be honoured in the Memorial Art Gallery (University of Rochester, New York, US) 2014 Invitational Biennial Exhibition. Invitational exhibitions imply a level of technical and artistic excellence judged exceptional by committees that include peers, academics, art aficionados and museum staff. To be considered for the Rochester Biennial, an artist must also live and work in one of the 27 counties that comprise central and western New York, the historic birthplace of Stickley Furniture, the American Shaker movement and the Roycrofters. Geographically, it is home to the Ceramics School at Alfred University, Corning Glass and the School of American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology.

For the 2014 exhibition, he designed and built seven new sculptures. Three (Fertile Ground, Dog With Bone and Storm Rising) are narratives sculpted along the bellies of historic Greek vessel forms, a Kell hallmark. Beware of Dog has a rocket replacing the body of a snarling, wild-eyed dog. Memorial is a masculine death mask resting on a tray surrounded by a della Robbia wreath of baseballs, tennis balls, apples and bananas. He writes about this piece that "... memories of my father's death still haunt me and I long for times ... that were simpler."

Chomping a cigar, the rude, obnoxious Clown barely fits into the driver's seat of a toy-like Volkswagen. He is the image of a Batman nemesis. Sanctuary is a spikey surfaced cube with hinged door that opens to reveal a gold-leafed, clay man's head inside. While Clown is ripped from action driven comic book pages, Sanctuary takes its lead from popular movie and television culture--sci-fi tales ("The Wizard of Oz" and "Star Trek" for example) where mysterious disembodied heads float behind a secret screen or rest in a vault and rule a coerced, compliant community.

These new works add chapters to the fables that Jeff Kell began with his art nearly 20 years ago, stories that lay out the follies and trials of this era and are told through images of popular culture. The tales come with dollops of moral outrage disguised under blankets of humour. No nuance please.

Former gallery owner and newspaper art columnist Shirley Dawson continues to be besotted by skilled and capable artists and occasionally has the opportunity to write about their work. Jeff Kell lives in suburban Rochester, New York, US with his wife Joni. His canine model, Murray, passed away in 2015. When he is not creating art pieces, Kell designs tableware for companies such as Dansk and Lennox and regularly lectures on 3D modelling and printing.

Article by Shirley Dawson

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Author:Dawson, Shirley
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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