Author: Andrew Harper

Publication: Artlink

Press Date: October 2016

UK artist Lindsay Seers has been to Queenstown before and made vital work from her visits, but her latest work Suffering is an experience that is almost unprecedented. Seers, with the assistance of Ray Arnold, has made this work about the now-deceased Queenstown resident Leo Kelly. Seers has trod carefully and made a humble and admirably respectful work in homage to this man and his art. She constructed a small tin hut, made from a characteristic type of corrugated iron, and placed small benches in it to encourage people to sit and watch a film in which Kelly may be seen, his voice heard, the interior of his home revealed, and (most importantly) his art seen. Kelly’s painting was an expression of his deep, committed religious faith.

After seeing the short film, one then encounters Kelly’s paintings – his entire output as an artist – and some relics of his encounters with faith. Kelly found rocks and saw the holy Virgin and more in them: these are lovingly preserved and presented as gifts from God. But it is Kelly’s paintings that truly astonish: Kelly was clearly untrained, and possibly hadn’t seen much art, but his strong personal faith is clearly expressed in each and every work. Kelly saw celestial lights and was a visionary. He is raw, but this it not outsider art. He was a private person, who lived in Queenstown all his life, and was well-known about town. It is not entirely inappropriate to compare him with William Blake, the great English poet and painter, for his work is the translation of religious ecstasy and unshakeable belief.

Kelly’s work is the kind of art one hears of, but is highly unlikely to encounter. It is evocative and potent, and seeing it at this festival felt like a remarkable privilege. It is hard to avoid the hyperbolic response here, but Kelly’s work and Seer’s sensitive presentation made for a memorable experience. It was the highlight of The Unconformity for me. It also captured the focus on the people of this strange, beautiful mining town and the powerful sense of community.

Andrew Harper is a writer based in Hobart. He writes a regular art column for The Mercury, and contributes to a number of national publications. He is also an artist, a stand-up comedian and an experimental maker.