John Kelley

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, John Woodrow Kelley (b. 1952) is a representational artist known for mythological scenes and portraiture. In his works, Kelley seeks to reinterpret Western art through a contemporary lens. His lifelong fascination with classical art stemmed from a trip to the Greek Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, at age six. Kelley’s oil paintings are inspired by Greek mythology and studies of the old masters like Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio; this emphasis on the subject matter and vocabulary of classical realism is in reaction to the emptiness of abstract expressionism and modernism in the visual arts. His work is part of an important new wave of contemporary New York artists utilizing the beauty of the human figure. He believes that revolutionary and iconic contemporary art will employ a universal language of representationalism and a spiritual permanence within the classical tradition of humanity.  

Kelley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a Master of Arts degree in architecture from the Pratt Institute in New York. After working for two years at the Davis & Brody architectural firm, he began painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York and New York Academy of Art. He was under the tutelage of Ted Seth Jacobs, a classical realist who specialized in the academic tradition of accurate drawing and the study of anatomy. Although he divides his time between his studios in New York City and West Knoxville, Kelley is a fellow and drawing teacher at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. His works have been showcased at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, the National Arts Club, and the Fishbach Gallery, all in New York, and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, and the John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.

Headshot photography courtesy of John Woodrow Kelley