May 21–August 11, 2013
The title of this exhibition is taken from a foreword written by Julien Levy for the catalogue accompanying the 1965 Leon Kelly retrospective at the International Gallery in Baltimore. In that text, Levy, a close friend of the artist and a dealer of his work for many years, describes Kelly as being “closed in the chrysalis of his art,” and then goes on to explain:
If one were to imagine the visions of a larva within its chrysalis . . . and it is always
the artist’s business to imagine such things and to inform us of them . . . then one
might come to share the state of suspended contemplation which Leon Kelly spins
for us . . . he being always in a metamorphosis.
The lepidopteran characterization relates in part to the bizarre, insect-like figures that had inhabited Kelly’s art since the early 1940s, and which were highly influenced by the regular contact with the Surrealist movement that Levy’s gallery afforded him. It also references, perhaps more so, the hermit-like existence the artist had imposed on himself over the last thirty years of his life. Living alone on Long Beach Island, a narrow strip of land off the coast of New Jersey, Kelly formulated a plethora of alternative worlds, many born out of an imagination so fertile that they still today remain enigmatic.
Suspended Contemplation includes a large contingent of surrealist-inspired compositions for which Leon Kelly is best known today, as well as numerous additional sheets that range from his early cubist studies to his neo-baroque experiments of the early 1960s. The drawings are selected from the collection of Albert and Lorraine Kligman, several of which were given to the Palmer Museum of Art in 2011.