“I am a big fan of making people smile with my work; a lot of the time I feel that if you force politics in your art, just to do it... it loses its soul. I think there are a lot of issues people can do art on and still make an impact”.
Kelly describes DC as the city he feels comfortable in, but at the same time a city he feels frustrated with. DC is known for a lot of talk; it’s the city of politics after all. Yet he’s able to find inspiration there and give DC a little bit of himself back in return; a piece of his imagination. Weaving colourful characters into the city’s landscape, Kelly likes to bring life to ignored spaces, painting murals on decrepit buildings, reclaiming them as places with a purpose. Kelly’s purpose is to capture a reaction; maybe even a smile. And with that smile perhaps a change in the way an area is perceived. By bringing positive attention to a location, there is hope that people will begin to care.
Kelly’s art serves as a catalyst for positive change in both the city and the individual.
“Social isolation and emotional captivity, these are two of the major things that I comment on with my work. People dealing with the society in which we live, and the emotional arsenal that each person is equipped with.” Kelly certainly does this with his characters, which are awkward yet relatable, vivid and, more importantly, interesting. His charming characters create layers that unravel into a story. These vibrant tapestries of colour and characters remind me of the dreamy prismatic films of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which Kelly uses to describe the power of image:
“City of Lost Children is just a visual hard-on... The first time I saw the movie it didn’t even have subtitles and you still understand it. This is basically how I try to make my work... you don’t need subtitles.”
On the street, you have one glance to catch someone’s attention, to get their interest. The work should not be quiet; it should be loud and throw images into the minds that pass. Kelly attempts and succeeds at this. His youthful characters jump from the surface, playing with the viewer.
They feel like they are in motion, leaving you to drift off into a daydream. Kelly’s South American influences stem mostly from Peru, the home of his fiance, a place he visits a couple times of year. Kelly tells me that Peru has a lot of new writers who are creating intriguing and original pieces.
Artists such as Chuck Close, Foon Sham, and Egon Schiele were influences, challenging Kelly on his own concepts and processes.
Current artists who inspire him include Swoon, who went from being a graffiti artist to creating floating cities (check her out, her graffiti is amazing and the floating cities definitely interesting), Mike Giant, a fine artist, as well as graffiti and tattoo artist; and Kill Pixie, an Australian graffiti artist currently focusing on works done in ink and acrylic. It all feeds into Towles’ work, his figures; the story. The influences can clearly be seen in his work, yet his style remains his own.