The Hamptons has historically served as a haven for artists of all mediums. Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and many others used the community as inspiration and a quiet reprieve to create their many famous works that the world cherishes today. Chris Kelly has called the Hamptons his home for the entirety of his life and recently returned to the area to raise a family and establish his business as a painter and sculptor.
Over the course of his career, Kelly has worked with major interior design firms around the world, elite hotels in Manhattan, and also created custom pieces for personal collections.
Chris Kelly Studio is comprised of paintings and sculptures that fall in the “deconstructionism” category. Each piece is comprised of shapes and bright colors, which has become what Kelly is widely known for. Think of it as the most boring lesson from high school geometry classes coming alive. Kelly draws from shapes seen in the nature, like the curve of a seashell.
Kelly remarked, “In my life, I always like to seek out and discover the way things are connected.” His curiosity for life and how it intersects with art is paramount, which is why I was so elated to speak with Kelly about his work as a sculpturist.
Being a Hamptons local gives you a unique perspective as a business owner in the area now. Can you talk a bit about your relationship to the Hamptons community and why you chose to stay local?
CK: I actually grew up in East Hampton – all the way from a baby, to pre-school at the Neighborhood House, to John M. Marshall Elementary, and graduated from East Hampton High School. It was a different time back then and a lot has changed. But even though I moved away for many years, traveled the world, and then lived in NY City for a long time, East Hampton has always felt like home. I can’t imagine being as happy anywhere else and I feel very lucky to have such a strong connection to this amazing place. Being an artist, and doing the type of work that I do, necessitates that I spend a lot of time on my own, secluded in my studio. I take a lot of comfort in the fact that I can still connect with people that I know from my childhood while also meeting new people who have found their way out to East Hampton. Staying local has been one of the best decisions I ever made.
It’s evident that color plays a large part in your work. Is there a direct relationship with the colors you choose and the shape or style of the sculpture you’re creating?
CK: That’s a very interesting question – I haven’t thought about that, specifically, in regards to my sculptures before, but you’re right… there is a direct relationship, though there’s not an easy explanation. My sculptures are very much related to the large abstract paintings that I do – they wouldn’t exist as they are without the paintings. I often think of the sculptures as three dimensional paintings and I find that certain color relationships work better than others for the sculptural style I’m working in. I see them in terms of contrast, tension and resolve, and the sum being greater than the parts – I recently finished one of my painted wood sculptures for a collector in Maryland and I surprised myself by choosing two different reds to go together. The effect was a harmonious tension that I found to be energizing and thrilling, and a big part of that was how the colors interacted with the way I designed the shapes. So yes, there are multiple direct relationships and I find that I am always discovering new ways for those relationships to grow.
Your work has been commissioned by notable names and everyday people all around the world. What does that feel like after years of trial, error, and improvement as a creative?
CK: How many superlatives can I think of? It feels amazing, and wonderful, and I love meeting people who respond to my work and like it enough to purchase and put in their homes. To live with it every day. There is no greater compliment, and honor, than to have someone enjoy my art in that way.
What is coming up next for you in the Hamptons? Where can locals and visitors alike see your work?
CK: I’ve been working so much over these past many months, keeping up with new projects, and things are only getting busier. I’m currently working on paintings for a solo show in Litchfield, CT at a new gallery called amArtHouse, so I’m bringing a bit of the Hamptons up to New England. And locally, I’m with the Colm Rowan Fine Art gallery in East Hampton village – they will show some of my work over the fall and winter and I am already starting new artworks for a one-man exhibition that will open there next summer. It’s also possible to contact Colm Rowan to arrange for visits to my studio in Springs.
Your Instagram, @chriskellystudio, shows how vastly different each piece you create can be. Does that come naturally for you as an artist or do you find that your clients typically know exactly what they’re looking for?
CK: I have worked in different styles over the course of my career, but I think of them as all coming from the same source of creativity. Whenever I’m creating a new work of art I’m always thinking about my core tenets of the artistic process – a lot goes into it, but on a certain level my aim is to create something that is undeniably beautiful. For commissioned works, clients may ask if it’s possible to incorporate a certain color scheme, which I always take into consideration – I love solving puzzles and coming up with solutions to things, so it can be a fun process as long as I make it my own. It can also be a good starting point to ignite the spark of inspiration, and then the artwork takes on a life of its own. And as for pieces that I create for exhibitions, clients and collectors who end up purchasing them can have a variety of reasons why – sometimes they are looking for something specific, and sometimes they are surprised by something they’ve never seen or thought of before.
Are you dabbling in any new mediums or mixing up your projects at all as the year comes to a close?
CK: One of my newest works is a large-scale sculpture made out of aluminum, which I had never worked with before. I also used some new and special materials to add color to the sculpture. For example, before priming and painting the aluminum, I used the same substance that the US Air Force uses to chemically treat their fighter jets to help the paint have a stronger bond with the metal. I love learning new things so I really enjoyed doing all the research and preparation for the project. The end result is beautiful – it’s a sculpture titled MGR 1 and it premiered a few weeks ago at the Hamptons Fine Art Festival in Southampton. This new sculpture has opened up a whole new world for me and I foresee doing many more in the future.
You recently had a baby! Congratulations! Have you and your wife introduced any artistic activities to your child? Is it too early to tell if you have an emerging artist on your hands?
CK: Thanks! Aside from when our baby visits me in the studio, we have also taken him to many art exhibits and openings here in the Hamptons. He’s seen way more art than I ever saw at that age (he just turned 11 months). I’d say it’s probably too early to tell if he’s an emerging artist, but we have plans for getting him some giant crayons to play with. He’s currently more interested in smashing things and knocking stuff down, but that can be an integral part of the creative process, so we’ll see.
What are your favorite local activities to do in the Hamptons?
CK: As we all know, this past year and a half has been a strange time for activities outside the home. And since I’ve been working so much, I haven’t had time for much else. However, I do cherish the times when we get to take family walks on the beach with our dog Peanut, or go for a drive on a rainy day, or stop at S&S Corner Shop in Springs for a coffee and pastry. My wife is from Sweden and they have a word for dedicated coffee breaks – it’s called “fika” which is both a noun and a verb. So I really enjoy being able to fika on a regular basis. It’s also a true privilege to be able to throw on a pair of waders and take my clam rake down to the harbor. Fresh clams with pasta is one of my all-time favorites to make at home.