A ship comes into port

All works of art are carriers of story. Even if we find a particular work reticent or obscure, the circumstances surrounding an object and its creation can be a source of compelling narratives. Think of the clashes between Michelangelo and his patron Pope Julian II over the painting of the Sistine Chapel, or of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which suffered a brutal attack by a man named Laszlo Toth in 1972 (see footage of the attach and subsequent restoration here).*

The Adrian Kellard exhibition at MOCRA has occasioned the sharing of many stories-behind-the-art. Many of his works have practical utility, such as a St. Francis screen created for his roommate Regina DeLuise to give her a bit of privacy in their shared apartment.

Adrian Kellard, St. Francis screen, 1985.
Adrian Kellard, St. Francis screen, 1985. Collection of Antonia Lasicki and William Devia, Niskayuna, NY.

Recently a new paragraph was added to the story of Kellard’s major work, Healing … The Learned Art of Compassion. The central portion of the work includes a canopy faced with a large portrait of Jesus, standing over an altar-like bench and framing a beautifully rendered sorrowing Mary on the wall. Flanking this configuration are, to the right, a crucifixion and, to the left, an unusual winged figure with a poignant portrait of Mary and an enclosed self-portrait of the artist.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion, 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.
Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion, 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.

The border around the central Mary portrait is inscribed with the days of the week, hovering over choppy waves and demarcated by lighthouses. We knew that there had originally been a marker with a sail boat on it that was used to “sail” from day to day, safe harbor to safe harbor. However, it was not among the many components of the work that had arrived at MOCRA for safekeeping several years ago. (See this previous post about the assembling of this work.)

While Regina DeLuise was here in St. Louis for the opening of the exhibition in September, she mentioned to us that she thought she might have the missing boat marker. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, the boat arrived–not by water, but by air and land. But it was not yet seaworthy, because the dowels used to affix it to the panel had been snapped off. With some trial-and-error, and more importantly some expert assistance from Bryce Allen of our Saint Louis University Theatre shop, we were able to restore the marker. Now ship-shape, it has returned to active service. (We are also grateful to Bryce and his colleague, lighting designer Mark Wilson, as well as some able student assistants, for helping us engineer the lighting for this work.)

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.
Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA. Here a section of the wooden fringe has been removed temporarily to expose the boat marker (upper right corner of the central panel) more clearly.
Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.
Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA. The boat marker is in the upper right.

You can hear more stories about Adrian Kellard and his art in an episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast featuring an interview with Regina DeLusie and gallery dealer Susan Schreiber. Listen to the podcast, and explore a Listening Guide, here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

* The attack on the Pietà has an unexpected St. Louis connection: Toth was wrestled away from the statue by Bob Cassilly, who went on to become a noted sculptor in his own right, as well as the creative genius behind the one-of-a-kind City Museum. Cassilly died on September 26, 2011, in a bulldozer accident on the site of a project-in-progress called Cementland.

Adrian Lee Kellard, 1/28/59 – 11/14/91

Adrian Kellard with The Promise
Kellard in his apartment, ca. 1990, with "The Promise."

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of artist Adrian Kellard’s death. In a recent post, I quoted some of the entries in the exhibition guest book to give an anecdotal sense of the effect his art and life have on our visitors. On this anniversary day, we share a brief reflection from Kellard’s close friend, artist photographer Regina DeLuise:

“To be human is to know loss. On some level I’ve never really felt without Adrian, although I long to hear his voice.

Today is the day he died. To have spent the fall season involved with The Learned Art of Compassion has made this Nov 14th most remarkable for me. Adrian’s life was one filled with passion, dedication and love. Even though he died young, his life felt complete to me. Knowing his work needed to be in the world has been running parallel to my own personal aspirations, rather like living two lives. This exhibition represents a birth to me, a true future for the life’s work of my dear friend.
— Regina DeLuise”

N.B. A recently posted episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast features Regina DeLuise and others reminiscing about Kellard. Click here for more information and to listen to the podcast.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

New on MOCRA Voices: Adrian Kellard podcast

MOCRA Voices logoEarly this year we launched MOCRA Voices, a podcast series of conversations with thinkers and practitioners at the intersection of contemporary art, religion, and spirituality. Our aim is to take listeners in-depth with artists, scholars, theologians, religious leaders, and others who are engaged in the ongoing dialogue between visual art and the religious and spiritual dimensions.

We’ve just posted a new episode that focuses on the art and life of Adrian Kellard, the subject of MOCRA’s current exhibition, Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion. Host John Launius and MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., are joined by Regina DeLuise, a close friend of Kellard and an artist photographer in her own right, and Susan Schreiber, Kellard’s New York gallery dealer. Dempsey, DeLuise, and Schreiber share stories of Kellard that serve to illuminate his artistic aims and influences, his distinctive visual style and treatment of his woodcut medium, and the ways in which Kellard’s upbringing, sexual orientation, and faith found expression in his work.

In addition to the podcast itself, we’ve prepared an extensive listening guide that provides context about the East Village art scene, the early years of the AIDS pandemic, the art of woodcuts, and more.

MOCRA Voices is made possible with financial support from the Regional Arts Commission.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director