Robert Kelly is a visual artist. He is a member of Black Church Print Studio since 2010. He works in printmaking, painting, drawing, photography and video. He spoke to Way out West about how he has navigated a career in Art, and the advice he would give to those attempting to do so in 2017.
My dreams of being an artist first began when I was about ten years old and in primary school. It was after something a teacher said about artists, about how they perceive the world differently and see colour differently to other people. I held on to that as a dream for my life – I wanted to be an artist.
Art school didn’t arise for me until I was twenty-four and had already worked in the industry for a couple years. Prior to Art school I had my own studio, and was reasonably accomplished at representational painting and drawing. I’d got the offer to teach about a year before I went to Art school, and through that was asked by the school principle to go to Art school and get the qualification I needed in order to continue to teach. So I applied to Art School, got in to Dunleary, and my Art career, and indeed my teaching career, continued from there.
It was difficult to balance teaching and my own work in the earlier years, particularly as I was also bringing up two children. There was less time to focus on my own art. I did exhibit on a fairly intermittent basis, but I also was very involved in teaching with the department of education, and the development of course programmes, and things like that. It took up a lot of my time.
It was only when my children went to college and moved out that I found the necessary time for myself and my own art and so in 2005 I began to work on my own artwork and my first solo exhibition. Since then I’ve been involved in over thirty-five exhibitions, either solo or as part of a group exhibition, including five since August.
Anybody who comes to me and says their interested in Art, I try and encourage them. As a teacher I would try and go above the call of duty and try and assist students in getting a portfolio together for university, and thankfully many of them would get offers from two or three universities.
It’s an old saying, but it's a truism: talent is five percent, the other ninety-five is hard work.
None of it comes easy, but if people want to do it, they want to do it, and would never try and take that away from them. Rather, I would do what I can to help them. However, it’s important each person does what’s right for them. Art isn’t an easy career, and it’s not one you’re going to make a living from directly. Most artists have to do something else to make money. If you get into fashion design or other craft disciplines there may be much more production and it’s maybe easier to get into the marketplace, but I would advise any student going to art school to do a course in business before they go, or a course in business management while they’re there. That could help with being realistic about fitting art into your life and providing a way of making a living.
It’s an old saying: talent is five percent, the other ninety-five is hard work. And it’s true. Success comes from hard work. There’s no other way. You have to do it yourself and you have to motivate yourself. Nobody hands it to you on a plate, and nothing comes easy. These are all well-known sayings, but they’re truisms as well.