Painter Jenny Kelley’s world is full of color and life and blooms—bursting out of vases, tumbling onto tables, reaching beyond the edges of the canvas. Her still-life arrangements are like homages to the past: an antique tablecloth, a decorative bit of porcelain, a tarnished figurine of a horse. It is clear from the attention bestowed with each brushstroke that her subjects delight her. That colors delight her. And that modernity is completely absent here.
“My tastes are kind of old lady,” Kelley admits. “I love old-fashioned costumes. I’m obsessed with the 19th century. I remember very clearly a fourth-grade trip to the Museum of Fine Arts [in Boston]. I bought postcards and I still have them:⎯Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. In middle school, I would copy Cassatt’s paintings in acrylic.”
With heroes like that, Kelley was fortunate to have a rigorous artistic upbringing. She grew up in Marstons Mills and attended Barnstable High School, where painter Carl Lopes taught her to draw and paint realistically. As a teen, she worked for decorative artist Joan Peters, whose signature patterns include hydrangeas and other Cape-specific motifs in candy-colored hues. “For me it’s important to get realistic colors,” Kelley says. “Lopes taught us to paint in a limited palette: brown, blue, red, yellow and white. With Peters, I had to mix colors that matched fabric exactly. So I had both sides: working with a limited palette and needing to get really precise color.”
Kelley studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, which she attended on a merit scholarship, but found that for the traditional training she craved she needed to turn to the artists she admired. “In some ways, I’m self-taught,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from my own experimentation and reading books about how certain artists did things.” Kelley now teaches others, through workshops and her full-time job as art teacher at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis.
While she is adept at a variety of media, including pencil sketches, children’s book illustration and formal portraiture, she has carved out a niche with her floral still lifes done in oils. It’s as if she has come full circle. “I painted hydrangeas endlessly when I was younger,” she says, recalling her work as a decorative painter. “I never thought of doing it as fine art.”
Jenny Kelley is represented by Tree’s Place Gallery in Orleans. To view more of her work, visit jennykelley.com.