John Melville Kelly Biography

John Melville Kelly




John Melville Kelly was born in Oakland, California on November 2, 1877. Raised on a ranch outside of Phoenix, Arizona, Kelly decided to return to the Bay Area s a young adult to pursue an education in art and design. He studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art and the Partington Art School, and with artist Eric Spencer Mackey. Kelly's work as a freelance artist came on the heels of a fourteen year career as an illustrator and graphic designer for the San Francisco Examiner. In 1923 developer Charles Frazier offered Kelly an opporunity to illustrate Frazier's Lanikai building plans. The job was meant to last a year, but Kelly and his wife, sculptor Kate Kelly, ended up staying in Hawaii after falling in love with the landscape and people of the islands.

It was Kate's pursuit of printmaking, under the tutelage of Huc-Mazelet Luquiens, that sparked John's own interest in the decidedly different artistic medium. John began pursuing etching with great interest, eventually working almost exclusively in drypoint and then aquatint. His work shows his fascination with the subtlety allowed in the aquatint technique, his experiment with the manipulation of color directly on the plate producing a tonal effect not achieved with etching. His subject matter was almost entirely the people and surroundings he'd grown to love. Before long, his imagery was popular in creating an idealized vision of island life and his reputation quickly increased in the 1930s and 1940s. 

John Kelly was the author and illustrator of "Etchings and Drawings of Hawaiians" published in 1943 and also "The Hula as Seen in Hawaii" published in 1955.

The Hawaii State Art Museum, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, Missouri), Saint Joseph College Art Gallery (West Hartford, Connecticut) and the San Diego Museum of Art (San Diego, California) are among the public collections holding work by John Melville Kelly.

John Melville Kelly died in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA in on September 9, 1962.