Cheryl Kelley has come a long way since playing with her Hot Wheels cars as a child in her native Texas, dreaming of the day she would actually be able to drive her much-coveted Corvette. Now all grown up into a renowned painter, she is definitely an artist to watch if you like us, marvel at the beauty of true twentieth century American icons like the 1968 Camaro, the 1970 Nova or the 1965 Corvette.
Since 2003, Kelley has been creating outstandingly photorealistic high-gloss oil paintings of classic muscle cars with such virtuosity that it might take a few, repeated looks to actually realize that they are in fact paintings and not photographs taken at a prestigious car collectors show. With her latest solo exhibition ‘Reflective Presence’ at the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York City - on display until 6 April, 2013 -, she invites us once more to join her on a ride through a world of splendid beauty and eclectic taste, a world where the automobile is more than merely a convenience or a mundane means of transportation.
The exhibition features a selection of brand new paintings of classic muscle cars and cars of the Golden era, painted with oil paint on aluminium panels mounted on plywood. Kelley combines oil paint with a high gloss varnish to mimic the reflective surface of a car, while skilfully using brush strokes that range from very tight and smoothly blended to very loose and expressive in order to create an illusion of openness and depth. Working from photographs that she carefully takes at car shows and museums, she recreates her subjects with complete precision, thereby simulating the illusion of reality. Between the intelligent brush strokes and glossy reflections, the cars depicted strangely manage to appear more real and appealing in her paintings than their photographic predecessors.
For every true automobile aficionado, the distinctive roar of an accelerating engine is probably the quintessence of a classic muscle car. However, for Cheryl Kelley her love for muscle cars is not about the high-power engine or the horse power, it is not about their elitist status or even the idea of the car itself. For Kelley, it is rather about a profound instinctive attraction to their form. "The first thing that I am drawn to is the beauty. I find myself getting lost in the reflections of beautiful cars when I stop at traffic lights''. Mesmerized by their refined curves, exquisite shape and alluring presence, Kelley draws from the heart and looks beyond the highly-praised manufacturers, impressive engine specifications or their status as classic icons of automobile history.
In her paintings the cars abolish any sense of functionality. They are portrayed as objects of desire, as highly covetable show-stoppers that blatantly flaunt the beauty of their exquisite form, captivating her and us alike.
''These big engine cars, seemingly fuelled by raw testosterone, were ironically most definitely feminine in form. As a twentieth century American icon, the muscle car is remembered for its speed and power. My paintings are about the feminine sensuality of the surfaces, the Mel Ramos-like perfection of female form''.
Once enticed by the elegant curves, the rounded edges and the smooth surfaces of the automobiles that she paints, the viewer can go deeper and discover something beyond the pure aesthetics of the form. In her paintings the dramatic reflections created on the hoods and trunks of the cars take centre stage and we are drawn to them just as we are drawn to our own reflection in the mirror. We notice glimpses of people and the surrounding landscape reflected on the shiny surfaces which amorphously blend together to create an imagined and otherwise non-existent version of the world through the curves of the automobile. The curved form becomes the medium to experience adjacent sceneries and by looking at them, we shift between the real and the imaginary, as reality gradually morphs into abstraction reflected on the polished surface of the car.
Immensely fascinating and impeccably rendered, Cheryl Kelley’s paintings are a true testament to her love of classic muscle cars. Where buyers of cars now sacrifice aesthetics for convenience, economy and boot capacity, her work stands out as a reminder of the captivating allure and sensuality of the automobile as a form of art. So with the keys in the ignition, we are more than willing to surrender ourselves to the throaty hum of their roaring engines, as we let her drive us through our very own American Dream.