These works, range from 2000 to the present, and depict a variety of styles, from figurative abstracts to representional landscapes depicting North Louisiana, as Kelley describes it, “the most beautiful part of the country.” These pieces embody the themes and subject matter that make up southern culture. Kelley states, “My subject matter comes from my upbringing in North Louisiana and my travels, and stories from the elderly that were passed on.”
In this context of southern culture, Kelley explores “how the past connects with the present and our future.” Kelley paints “the old and the new, today and yesterday, sorrow and happiness, struggle, hope, togetherness, and love,” finding inspiration in “a song, a vision, elderly man or woman, or even a historic landmark.”
The themes that play out in Kelley’s work are the same ones that define and guide us as a community in North Louisiana. They include “God, Faith, family, life, Wisdom, Stability, Love, Church, Compassion, Music, Community, Education, Value, Happiness, Struggle, Positive Growth, Humor, Enjoyment, Unity and Togetherness.” One might say these are the virtues of our culture, or material for a conversation about our virtues and their role in our collective identity. Kelley describes North Louisiana as “rich in culture, family oriented, and wholesome.” These works, inspired by strong faith and cultural pride, establish and argue that claim. Kelley states, “One reason I love art is because it identifies part of who we are.” When viewing Kelley’s paintings, one must consider the connection between identifying who we are and constructing that identity. Kelley’s work seems to do both.
Time, too, is an important subtext in Kelley’s work, whether it is that exploration of “how the past connects with the present and our future,” or his depiction of the elderly, or traditions such as Jazz, juxtaposed with the contemplation of the timeless, such as God, Humor, Struggle, and the tenuous, such as our natural environment, our loved ones, and our lives.
For Kelley, painting is a form of storytelling. “Vibrant colors weave their way across trademark rag paper,” creating “a world in which the observer becomes a participant,” Through this rich, complex visual storytelling, “Frank Kelley, Jr.’s paintings interpret real stories motivated by true-life situations,” causing the viewer to “transfix himself in the story, closely relating to elements both obvious and subtle in each painting.”
Frank Kelley, Jr., an alumnus of Grambling State University, has shown across the country in places such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, and New Orleans, and has been featured in the American Artist Blue Book and Art and Antiques magazine. Kelley anticipates that students of Grambling attending this exhibit “will see my hard work and dedication,” and adds, “I would hope that the students of Grambling State University will be inspired, appreciate and value the many styles and techniques.” Kelley hopes this exhibit will “have a long lasting (positive) effect on their lives.”
In his art and his life, Frank Kelley, Jr. is an advocate for education, community involvement, and “the value of art.” Kelley has founded two community art programs, the Youth Arts Initiative Program and the Education Arts Initiative Program, reaching over 1,000 children across the United States, assisting them to become better citizens through art.