A roadrunner with purple feathers in its crest, the kind eyes of a gentle moose, a fox caught mid trot—Avery Kelly’s portraits of animals aren’t just to re-create a moment but to share a personality.
Working with oils and acrylics and in printmaking, the artist focuses on the quirkiness of animals, bringing a sense of lightness and fun to what can otherwise be a stodgy genre.
“Instead of trying to show something exactly as it is, I’m trying to create an expression,” the Fort Worth-based artist explains.
When she was growing up, there were birds, dogs and cats in the house, and during her family’s trips to Colorado, Kelly was entranced by the wildlife and landscapes. She discovered art in high school but focused on environmental studies while at the University of Redlands in California. The art bug kept nagging at her though, and she returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in painting from Texas Christian University and then master’s degrees in studio art from the University of Texas at Tyler.
“I’ve always been very interested in animals and the outdoors,” Kelly says. “The interest in art really came as a way to express my enthusiasm about that.”
Today, Kelly is a full-time elementary school art teacher, where she gets to witness children discovering and exploring art. Inspiration abounds for the artist, from biking along the Trinity River in Fort Worth to taking in the mountain landscapes of Colorado or the beaches on the Gulf Coast of Texas. She also makes time to visit her favorite museums for sparks of vision from other artists, such the permanent and rotating exhibits at the Amon Carter Museum and Kimbell Art Museum, both in Fort Worth. In fact, the Kimbell and the National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame both carry prints of Kelly’s work on notecards, which are also available on her website.
In her home studio, Kelly stands at her easel and paces between that and a series of photographs on a music stand. Paintbrush in hand, she works with oils and acrylics and will sometimes trade it out for a palette knife to get the texture she’s searching for to bring an animal to life. Some of her favorite subjects at the moment are roadrunners, as they match her lighthearted style.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing roadrunners because they’re a little bit goofy,” she says. “I like things to be colorful, and I really enjoy that process of mixing colors.”
But her content is not restricted to just the flora and fauna that can be found in Texas—she travels the world via paintbrush with her portraits of African giraffes, blue-footed boobies from the Galapagos, or moose from Montana with photographs she finds online.
When she’s not painting, she moves over to the printing press in her home to create black-and-white relief prints. Through printmaking, Kelly has to think backward, drawing in reverse and carving pieces of linoleum. It’s an unforgiving style of art, unlike painting, where she can work over and around mistakes, and even after years of working on the press, she says the final product that appears on the cotton paper is always a surprise.
“It’s a totally different way to think about images, and I can do things with the printmaking that I definitely wouldn’t do in painting and vice versa,” she says. “I really enjoy how both take a different type of focus and execution. With carving, it’s very risky in that if I make a mistake, then I’m going to have to cut a whole new plate, so I start with the most important thing in the image.”
Kelly’s work has been exhibited throughout Texas, especially in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, in galleries, office spaces, churches and public buildings, such as Frisco City Hall and Keller Town Hall. Her pieces have also been in group exhibits and auctions around the country, including Taos, New Mexico; Billings, Montana; and Providence, Rhode Island. Special projects include a mural created for Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, a painting that extends the outdoor space with a scene that features crepe myrtle, morning glories, quail, hummingbirds, a napping dog—and, of course, a busy roadrunner.
“It was interesting to plan something on such a small scale and take it out in a big space,” she says.
Not all of her commissions are quite so large. Kelly is known for creating custom works for clients, primarily paintings of pets and other nature-inspired subjects. For these projects, she visits the pets to take photos—or has photos sent to her—so she can absorb the animal’s personality to make it shine through the portrait. She’s also been asked to paint Canada geese with a particular color scheme, as well as a painting with a lake house theme.
“A thing about my art is I don’t want it to seem like it’s taking itself too seriously,” Kelly says. “I want my art to be somewhat lighthearted and to make the viewer feel happy.” *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.