1. October

    October.  My favorite month of the year.  The weather is pretty ideal here in the Midwest.  It’s not New England, but we do have hills with trees that erupt in beautiful colors.  I watch some football as long as the Chicago Bears are playing.  Not rabid, but I’m a fan although disgusted by the news out of the NFL recently.  Letterman had a darkly humorous take on it a few Late Nights ago:  Essentially he reminded us that the inept Secret Service unwittingly allowed a felon with a gun to ride an elevator with Obama.  “What could be scarier than that?  Answer:  Riding an elevator with Ray Rice.”  Not funny but still funny.  I’m gonna miss Dave when he retires.

    Also, in October, my favorite holiday.  Halloween!  I’ll re-read (again)  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” sometime before the end of the month.  Nobody could set a mood or create an atmosphere for the season like Washington Irving.  There is, of course, a headless horseman, but thank God no aliens or zombies!  Speaking of “Sleepy Hollow”, that was the first major picture book I illustrated, way back in 1991.  I’ve been lobbying the publisher to let me revisit the story today, so far to no avail.  My work has changed dramatically since the original and I would absolutely LOVE to re-imagine Ichabod Crane in a more edgy, gnarly way … but still true to Irving’s lush detail.

    Anyway, as picture books go, my latest is generating a really good vibe so far this Fall.  “Harlem Hellfighters” has been an Editors’ Choice and a short feature in the NY Times Book Review, a starred review in Publishers Weekly, received very positive reviews from Kirkus and The Boston Globe and won a medal in The Original Art Exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in New York.  I’m pretty geeked about all that.  Going to NY to collect my hardware at the Exhibition opening October 23.  The following evening Friday the 24th, I’ll be giving a presentation on the “Hellfighters” project at the Society.  Stay tuned.

    Gary Kelley


  2. Cover for North American Review

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  4. thoughts

    As you may know, I prefer to spend my time making pictures rather than talking about them in the vapors of cyberspace.  But occasionally something comes along that is particularly shareworthy.  I just saw Wes Anderson’s GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL for the second time.  I’d read a lot about it; great reviews, so I had great expectations.  Obviously I was not disappointed.  There’s a lot to absorb in this quirky masterpiece.  The storyline is a flashback within a flashback.  Anderson distinguishes between the two with a shift in screen format.  Most of what we see onscreen is almost a square proportion, not widescreen.  I’m sure everyone didn’t catch it, but as a big proponent of compositional shapes, edges and cropping, I certainly did.  And loved it.  I won’t bore you with the details from here on, but if you’re a visual person with a good sense of design and a slightly odd sense of humor, I recommend it.  Five stars.  And not an explosion, a car chase or a zombie anywhere!

    A busy April.  My favorite picture book collaborator J. Patrick Lewis was in town a couple weeks ago.  He was the featured speaker at the University’s annual literacy conference for English majors and educators.  Pat’s the former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and together we also “enlightened” 200 fourth graders on the fine art of making storybooks together.  And we opened an exhibition of our work together - six books total - at the Hearst Center for the Arts here in Cedar Falls.

    Two weeks later, another collaborator, builder Peter Colver and I installed my 8 by 10 foot dimensional mural at the Iowa African-American Museum in Cedar Rapids.
    Some heavy lifting … literally.  It took four of us working five hours.  A unique project for me and in the end, I’m pretty proud of it.

    Finally, I’ll be hanging out with my Illustration Academy friends at the Spectrum Convention in Kansas City come May 9, 10, 11.  Even though Chris Payne did a killer portrait of me as Mr. Spock, I’m not really a fantasy art guy.  Never watched a single episode of Star Trek.  However, I do appreciate the level of traditional drawing and painting skills on display. They even have life-drawing sessions at this deal.  Imagine that!  Maybe I can give Greg Manchess a few pointers.  And assuming George Pratt is in the building, there will be laughs.  They say the Spectrum Weekend is like Comic Con without the crush of pop culture geeks.  I’ll let you know.

  5. Joseph Jefferson Jackson (July 16, 1887 – December 5, 1951), nicknamed "Shoeless Joe", was an American outfielder who played Major League Baseball in the early part of the 20th century. He is remembered for his performance on the field and for his alleged association with the Black Sox Scandal, in which members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox participated in a conspiracy to fix the World Series. As a result of Jackson’s association with the scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Major League Baseball’s first commissioner, banned Jackson from playing after the 1920 season. Since then, Jackson’s guilt has been disputed, and his expulsion from baseball during the prime of his career made him one of the game’s legendary figures.

  6. Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it in Americanist orthography, popularly known as Chief Joseph, or Young Joseph (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904), succeeded his father Tuekakas (Chief Joseph the Elder) as the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce, a Native American tribe indigenous to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon , in the interior Pacific Northwest region of the United states.

    He led his band during the most tumultuous period in their contemporary history when they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in theWallowa Valley by the United States federal government and forced to move northeast, onto the significantly reduced reservation in LapwaiIdaho Territory

  7. Joey Ramone

    Jeffrey Ross Hyman (May 19, 1951 – April 15, 2001), best known by his stage name Joey Ramone, was an American musician and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist of the punk rock band the Ramones. Joey Ramone’s image, voice and tenure as front man of the Ramones made him a countercultural icon.

  8. Jose Cuervo is a brand of tequila that was founded in 1795 by Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo. It is the best selling tequila in the world, with 35.1% market share of the tequila category worldwide and 33.66% share of the US tequila category as of July 2013, nearly twice the share of the second-leading brand. As of 2012, Jose Cuervo sells 3.5 million cases of tequila in the US annually, and a fifth of the world’s tequila by volume.

  9. Joséphine de Beauharnais (pronounced: [ʒo.ze.fin də‿bo.aʁ.nɛ]née Tascher de la Pagerie; 23 June 1763 – 29 May 1814) was the first wife ofNapoleon I, and thus the first Empress of the FrenchThrough her daughter, Hortense, she was the maternal grandmother of Napoleon III. Through her son, Eugene, she was the great-grandmother of later Swedish and Danish kings and queens. The reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg also descend from her. She did not bear Napoleon any children; as a result, he divorced her in 1810 to marry Marie Louise of Austria. Joséphine was the recipient of numerous love letters written by Napoleon, many of which still exist.

  10. Joseph Louis Barrow (May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981), better known as Joe Louis, was an American professional boxer and the World Heavyqeight Champion from 1937 to 1949. He is considered to be one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Nicknamed the Brown Bomber, Louis helped elevate boxing from a nadir in popularity in the post-Jack Dempsey era by establishing a reputation as an honest, hardworking fighter at a time when the sport was dominated by gambling interests

  11. Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (9 or 10th of October 1813- 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer primarily known for his operas.Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture, as ” La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, ” Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (The Drinking Song) from La traviata, “Va pensietro” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco,  the “Coro di zingari” (ANvil Chorus) from Il trovatore and the “Grand March" from Aida. 

  12. Gary Kelley

    "True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist."

    Albert Einstein

  13. Gary Kelley

    "As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."

    Henry David Thoreau


  14. Catch up

    I suppose it’s time to catch up …
    Time to polish that elusive ‘Brand’ of mine.  It’s not easy, mind you, when the phone one carries isn’t smart enough to click a Selfie.  But somehow I get by.
    So, seen any good movies lately?  My friend, Professor Scott Cawelti and I recently wrapped up our second series of film discussions at the local art center.  This session we covered The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Psycho, Paths of Glory, Glory, The Searchers, Dances With Wolves, Grave of the Fireflies and Fantasia.  Scott speaks more about story and I comment on visual context.  For example, I remind our group of the connection between Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Expressionist woodcuts and Caligari.  Or the debt that The Searchers owes to Fredric Remington’s Impressionistic western paintings.  Sharing such information with an engaged audience forces me to go deeper into it myself and hopefully enhance my own experience in the studio.  It keeps me growing as an artist.
    Speaking of movies, the awards season is winding down.  I don’t get too excited, although in the words of Chauncey Gardener, I like to watch.  And I did see most of the nominees this year before Oscar night.  Personally, I couldn’t wait for Wolf of Wall Street to end!  Enough already!  But I’m sure that’s how Scorcese wanted me to feel.  Disappointed the Coen brothers didn’t get a bit more attention for Lewyn Davis.  Love their work.  I thought A. O. Scott nailed it in the NY Times review of the movie:  “A brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.”  If I could achieve that in my own work, I’d be happy.  Some of the best stuff on the big screen these days is old-school animation.  When I was in L.A. recently I managed to catch “The Wind Rises,” a beautifully drawn and painted Japanese feature.  Also, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with The Oscar Nominated Short Films.  Amazing stuff!  Like illustrations that move.  The best (which ultimately won the Oscar) was from France called Mr. Hublot.  Very quirky, stop-motion kind of eclectic junk shop animation.  Simply brilliant in every way.  You just smile through the entire film.  As with comics, picture books, etc, the Europeans “get it.”  They appreciate the ART.
    Back from L.A. here at home I have a few large-scale projects in the works.  I’m on the committee designing a year-long exhibition for the African American Museum of Iowa (yes, we have black people in Iowa) on the history of black music.  For my part I’m creating a multi-layered (dimensional) mural of an uptown jazz club, about 8 by 10 feet.  Pretty happy with it so far.  Also finishing the illustrations for a Spanish publisher’s edition of the classic Don Juan Tenorio and organizing a sizeable exhibition of my picture-book art with regular collaborator and author J. Patrick Lewis.  And when I’m not blogging, which is most of the time, I have a graphic novel in the works I’m excited about.  More about that later.
    G. K.

  15. Gary Kelley

    "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."

    Albert Einstein