Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994

R E S P O N S E S
18
The images in Full Circle, Kelli Scott Kelley's December '93 exhibit at
the Lanning Gallery, evoke dark and terrifying aspects of the self. The
artist works with themes and images borrowed from the texts of
ancient alchemists, secret societies whose practitioners shared their
attempts to understand the mysteries of transmutation through
symbols deliberately strange or obscure to the uninitiated. Likewise,
in Kelley's work there is a tension between the impulse to reveal and
to obscure: the artist intimates communication, but the message is
secret, so personal that it remains cryptic.
The scenes of primitive, sadistic-looking operations take place in
dark, ambiguous, interior spaces. The nude women, androgynes,
and diseased dogs who inhabit this dreamlike (or rather,
IC IRFC L

by Mary Bunten
nightmarish) setting seem confined, claustrophobic, complicit.
Their sepia-toned, pupa-like bodies and skinny, pointed limbs
make them seem like hapless insects, or the skewered sinners in
an Heironomyous Bosch painting. There is little effort to
portray them as individuals. Typically having the same face
(perhaps it is Kelley's own face), they differ only in their
activities and mutations, and thus come to represent different
aspects of the same self. The paintings become a story of the
conflicting drives and impulses within an individual, a chronicle
of inhibition.
Ribbon-like threads encircle and connect the figures in the
paintings, unifying and imprisoning them at the same time. This
motif suggests self-imprisonment. In Full Circle, one of the
binding threads unravels and gradually transforms into a severed
vein. Kelley's recurrent image of skeletal hoop skirts, stripped of
their fabric, echoes her image of the cage sprouting directly from
a figures' head; both of them become forces of self-directed
menace. In No Biting, a hoop-wearing ring woman, after having
already dented her own arm scarlet with teeth marks, bites into
her hand.
Often in Kelley's work, it is the female's masculine energy,
symbolized by dogs or androgynous figures, that is depicted as
subsumed or imprisoned. Eradicating Ectoparasites shows, in cross
section, an old claw-and-ball bathtub, in which a half submerged
mutant dog with human ears and feet grips with his paws the
sunken mechanical seat on which he is perched. A primitive hospital
contraption, this seat rises and descends by a system of pulleys. This
procedure, as elsewhere in Kelley's paintings, is controlled by a
woman. It is woman whom Kelley places in control.E

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Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed December 21, 2014.