Ty Kelly: Re-Cultivating the American Dreamscape

Balloons, Large mural commission.

By: Michelina Docimo

Born in Casper, Wyoming, a sparsely populated, square state that aligns itself by latitudinal and longitudinal lines on the global grid, artist Ty Kelly learned to break boundaries at a young age.  As a child, drawing came as second nature to him, using sketches and paintings as a form of communication to express feelings.  Even though Kelly was not offered an opportunity to indulge in his talent during his early school years due to low funding in the arts, he continued to paint on his own.  Kelly absorbed every corner of his natural surroundings, from the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the colorful canyons of Yellowstone National Park to the low prairies of the High Plains.  In his mind, he would soar through the landscapes like a bird, often dreaming of images of foreign lands and the patterns that people would cultivate into the earth.

Escape 30x40

Leaving his hometown for the open, rolling plains of Oklahoma to pursue a degree in English literature, Kelly met Russian artist, Igor Koutsenko at an arts festival and soon was taken under his wing for formal art lessons.  Dropping his university studies, Kelly trained with Koutsenko for two years in the traditional style of Realism, an artistic movement of the 1800s that depicted objects as they existed, without any embellishments or attachment of emotion. 

Kelly attributes this learning experience as catapulting him artistically.  “I gained a depth of understanding of how to see the world as it exists.  I adopted some of Koutsenko’s ideas into my work, for example, the Russian style architecture, the bright jewel-tone colors, the influence of Russian folk art.  But then I began to paint from a place all my own, from my mind and all the imagined places I wanted to be, and from my soul – all the desires that wanted to bring me there.”

Fascinated by patterns in the landscape, Kelly’s painting began to take on a multi-dimensional perspective, a bird’s eye view from above, below, inside, outside, and beyond.  “Driving through so many different states for art shows, I noticed the wildness of national parks in contrast to the rows of cultivated farmlands and the grids of urban dwelling or queues of wind turbines.  Wherever human hand has touched the earth, even in the functionality of growing crops or harvesting energy, unintentional beauty emerged.” 

Sunrise Wind Power, 24x24

Kelly’s paintings are a hybrid of landscape and still life and sometimes portrait all in one.  Breaking the rules of Realism, fantasy, dreams, symbols, and emotion began to take over his works in a Jungian manner.  “The message in my art is two-fold: it contains meaning for me as an artist.  I paint what I feel.  But it has a second life, when a collector or viewer looks at the same piece and feels something completely new.  They attribute their own memories to one image.  One symbol may have many faces.  Art is communication that transcends language.”

This is the case with Kelly’s popular Volare collection.  Volare, which means to fly, is a series of single, unique hearts, the universal symbol of love.  Kelly has painted well over three hundred Volare hearts, from Jazz Volare, to Starry Volare, to Bohemian Volare, to Golden Volare, there are as many Volare available as there are human hearts.   Some under lock and key, others stitched, these hearts pulsate through air, personality flowing through their veins that seem to be whispering, ‘Passion lives inside you.’  “So many people have responded to Volare because they are simple hearts with wings with a distinct style.  Collectors have included cardiologists to children.  They speak to the child in us and what inspires us.”

Blue Volare, 12x12

During this economic crisis, Kelly hopes that his paintings will bring a sense of comfort and reassurance.  His “grid series” work also reflects a shift in how he approaches a painting.  The grid paintings are square, quilt-like, symbols that tie into each other to tell a story, a personal reflection on life, a world event, or humanity.  Rather than completing a full grid series, Kelly paints individual square symbols that can be purchased independently and collected over time so as create a client’s own personal story.

Having traveled most of the continental United States, Kelly connects with people from all walks of life, always surprised at who will be a client.  At first, he believed mostly women would enjoy his art because of the bright colors and the dreamy unconscious meaning, but his patron list includes government officials, pediatric dentists, oil tycoons, interior decorators, business owners, and non-profits like the Public Infant Crisis Center in Oklahoma City.  Kelly’s response, “Beauty is an element of diversity.  Like landscapes, people respond to a new experience.  They seek what will stimulate their minds to think and our hearts to feel.”

Images contributed by Ty Kelly,

Mother Earth


I met Ty Kelly five years ago at a street art fair and just like his other patrons, I was hooked.  His art pops, but in poetic steps, transporting me from my dreams and reality and back again.  I’m a strong believer in deciphering dreams, analyzing symbols, and uniting the links between conscious and unconscious states.  Sometimes, we find answers in dreams that are hidden when we are awake.  Sometimes, we are able to see more clearly with our eyes closed.


5 Comments to “Ty Kelly: Re-Cultivating the American Dreamscape”

  1. Paul Edward Wicht says:

    Thank you so much for introducing me to this this wonderful artist! Your review of his work is superb as well. Without you, I may ever have learned of his beautiful work.

  2. mdocimo says:

    Paul – Thanks so much for reading my work! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ty’s work is truly wonderful to behold. I love his room interiors with just a glimpse of the outside world. This is a wonderful article.

  4. mdocimo says:

    Thanks Elaine! I’m happy you’ve been able to experience Ty’s work in person… the colors are amazing!

  5. Your headline phrase “ty kelly: recultivating the american dreamscape myartobio…” is outstanding, the benefits of reading it are sixfold..

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