Artist profile - Ben Kelly

Two Brothers, Dunham Massey

Two Brothers, Dunham Massey - Credit: Archant

Ben Kelly’s first solo show since 2014 opens at Clark Art in Hale on 14 June. If past experience is anything to go by, it’s sure to be a great success, says Kate Houghton.

Ben Kelly

Ben Kelly - Credit: Archant

ntroducing the exhibition, Bill Clark, of Clark Art, says: ‘The range of work in Ben Kelly’s latest exhibition is breathtaking. It will be a visual feast for all those who attend and undoubtedly reinforce Ben Kelly’s position as one of the most popular northern artists of his generation.’

Ben Kelly is Manchester born and raised, and proud to be associated with the genre known as Northern Art. There is a clear thread that runs directly from the urban landscapes of Lowry and Valette to Ben Kelly’s work. While they document a place and a time, like Lowry Kelly’s work also celebrates people engaging with the world around them in simple, everyday activities. Shopping, walking the dog, lounging on a beach, his art has a narrative flow to it that draws you deeper with every viewing. Kelly also followed in Lowry’s footsteps as the second ever recipient of the national Football in the Arts Prize.

It is perhaps the gentle humour, the clear pleasure Kelly takes in his subject matter, that makes his work so appealing, not simply the glory of colour and movement he so cleverly creates.

‘I’m really interested in people and the idiosyncratic nature of human life and of people, so I like to sort of study people and pick up on certain traits and motifs in my work. I’m also really interested in light and weather and things; I love the fractured light in woodlands. I just notice, when you’re surrounded by trees, the way the light sort of stripes the trees and this fractured light draws you down onto the people, and gives a narrative or a story in a similar way to stage sets, I think.’

A walk in the sun, Alderley Edge

A walk in the sun, Alderley Edge - Credit: Archant

For this upcoming show, Kelly has spent nearly two years concentrating on producing a body of work, over 75 paintings, that he has grouped together in his self-titled theme of This Enchanted Isle. They’re linked by style and a series of motifs, which you can discover for yourself, but if you want a clue, look for tattooed beach-goers, pet lovers with a sense of style and similar gentle witticisms that he has used to comment on man’s relationship with the world he lives in.

‘I’ve deliberately stayed clear of paintings of Manchester city centre this time,’ he says, ‘though that’s not a permanent thing. I wanted to show people working and enjoying the landscape around them – the seaside and the forests and parks. This transcends where the place actually is, it’s just universal.’

Most Read

Chatting to Ben is a lovely experience; this is a man who is gloriously talented and who has found his place in the art world, where his work is sought after and collected, yet he is wonderfully modest and just really happy to be doing what he is doing.

‘I’ve been very lucky, after I won the Painting in Football Prize galleries just reached out to me. It’s great working with Bill; it’s a great honour to have my work shown in a gallery alongside many great artists, such as Geoffrey Key and Reg Gardner – not to mention Lowry and Valette! People in the North really support their artists, I think. They’re proud of where they’re from and Northern Art, really, is “this is where we live.” You don’t get that in other regions so much, I think.’

Without doubt this support will be made abundantly clear at his show this month, but Kelly says he’d paint on, regardless.

‘The joy I get is painting the pictures, to be honest. That’s the thing that I love; whether they sold or didn’t sell or I got the chance to exhibit or not I’d still be painting them – it’s something I have to do.’

Ben Kelly: This Enchanted Isle

From 14 June – 7 July

Clark Art, Hale

0161 929 5150 |