In the 1960s Oregon-based sculptor Lee Kelly was tempted by the discarded 1950s chrome-plated car bumpers that were beginning to turn up in scrap yards. He carted away these sensual scraps by the truckload, preferring Buick and Cadillac bumpers - not only for their higher quality chrome-plating, but as much for their sexier forms. Once back in the studio, Kelly created a group of very unusual, rugged, curvy, humorous sculptures using the original form of the bumper as a jumping off point. Though widely known for his large-scale sculpture in stainless and Cor-ten steel, much of Kelly’s early sculpture takes on a more organic form, and a stronger relationship to his early Abstract Expressionist paintings, some of which can be viewed in the concurrent retrospective exhibition Lee Kelly, on view at the Portland Art Museum through January 9, 2011.
Born in 1932 in McCall, Idaho, Lee Kelly began his artistic life as a painter, and in 1959 graduated from the Museum Art School at the Portland Art Museum, now known as the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Kelly’s long and prestigious career, and prolific nature have resulted in a significant body of work which can be seen in public and private collections throughout the country, including at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, Stanford University in California, New Orleans Art Museum in Louisiana, Seattle Art Museum in Washington and the City of Sapporo in Japan. As one of the most recognized artists in the Northwest, his modernist sculptures are a central focus at regional institutions such as Reed College, Marylhurst University, Oregon State University, Catlin Gabel School, the Oregon Health and Sciences University, and the Washington Park Rose Garden. Kelly has been exhibiting at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery since the early 1980s.