Well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest for his Cor-Ten and stainless steel sculptures, Lee Kelly’s large-scale public commissions often bear the influence of the artist’s extensive travel experiences. These monumental works use the monolithic forms of modernism. Combined with elements of Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and Thai architecture, they create multi-part structures, which often suggest a city or a grouping of buildings. For Pavilion, Kelly interweaves the forms and narratives of Nepal, one of his favorite destinations, with his distinctive “goddess” figures. These goddesses, representing Kelly’s long-time interest in mythology, seem to inhabit the modestly scaled, room-like structures.
In 2008, the Elizabeth Leach Gallery exhibited some of Kelly’s Abstract Expressionist-style paintings from the 1960s. This experience reminded him of the joy and fun of working with paint, and Kelly was inspired to create new works on canvas for the first time in over 50 years. While this new work is more elemental and restrained than his mid-century work, it also responds to and extends the visual language that he has been developing in his sculptural work throughout his career.
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 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 (Portland, OR), Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA), New Orleans Art Museum (New Orleans, LA), Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA), and the City of Sapporo, 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. In 2012, one of his most significant works, Memory 99, was installed in Portland’s North Park Blocks, at the future home of PNCA. Kelly has been exhibiting at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery since the early 1980s. In 2010, he was the subject of a major career retrospective at the Portland Art Museum.