Peter Cameron on John Kelly

April 3, 2020

The chameleon-like performance and visual artist John Kelly—who has embodied figures from Egon Schiele to Caravaggio to Joni Mitchell in four decades on the New York cultural scene—first came to Yaddo in 1994. In today’s excerpt from “Friendships in Arcadia,” his fellow Yaddo artist, the writer Peter Cameron, recalls his introduction to Kelly’s protean talent, at Yaddo in the snowbound winter of 1996. Happy weekend, all.

The first image I ever saw of John Kelly was plural: a photograph of John standing beside a painted self-portrait. Both Johns were identically dressed and posed, and the two suggested a continuum—that another John perhaps existed outside of the photograph’s frame, and other Johns beyond that. Later, when I met John at Yaddo in the winter of 1996, I realized how apt this image was. I think that at some level all artists desire to do that “other” thing—writers want to paint, painters to sing, dancers to write. In his performance “Paved Paradise” John, as Joni Mitchell, states that if an artist is in touch with her sensibility, she can do just about anything. Well, maybe. It helps if you are also phenomenally and variously talented. That winter at Yaddo, as it snowed and snowed, I watched several of John’s videos (my work wasn’t going particularly well); since then I’ve encountered his self-portraits in the flesh, and seen John perform in concert and theater. When I think of John I think of a big house with all the doors and windows opened, but instead of light flooding into the rooms, light is pouring out.

By Peter Cameron, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo