WHEN Robert Kelly was young, he didn’t realize he could make art a career.
Growing up in Seymour in the 1960s afforded few opportunities for entertainment unless you were into sports or fishing, Kelly said. Not really into either, Kelly spent a lot of time along White River.
“I had a love for wildlife,” 56-year-old Kelly said. “I spent a lot of time down there with a sketchpad as a kid.”
Kelly, who now resides in Cincinnati, said his greatest influence was American illustrator Norman Rockwell.
Reflecting on Rockwell’s comment that he never liked anything finished, Kelly said as an artist you always expect more out of yourself.
The father of three earned a degree in graphic design from Vincennes University in 1979 and afterward spent some time in the U.S. Army. By age 25, Kelly was working at the Pentagon as an illustrator for the Army.
“I was in the ‘war room’ in the basement,” Kelly said. “Breathing recycled air.”
When Kelly returned to civilian life in 1988, he built up a clientele and branched out doing contractual work for nationally recognized companies, including General Electric, Proctor & Gamble and FedEx.
In 2011, Kelly opened the Cincinnati-based Kasdesign, a graphics agency specializing in illustration, 3-D design and animation.
Adopting a digital medium hasn’t diminished Kelly’s love for ink and graphite work, he said.
People often have a misconception that just because you use digital technology you no longer pick up a pen or pencil, Kelly said.
“You don’t stop drawing,” he said.
At the behest of his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers, family and clients, Kelly decided to begin exhibiting his work. Kelly figured, what better place for his first public exhibit than his hometown?
“My art was always something personal that I never thought about sharing as much,” he said. “I think my age helped that. This exhibit is definitely the start of a trend.”
Kelly contacted the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts early last summer, which books exhibiting artists months in advance. Now more than a dozen of his wildlife illustrations are currently on display at SICA through the end of the month.
Kelly’s work is a combination of computer-generated graphics and airbrushing.
It’s a very mixed media, said Warren Baumgart, Jr., executive director of SICA.
He called it realistic, accessible art.
“People who have a hard time being challenged by abstract or contemporary art will love Kelly’s work,” Baumgart said. “It has a degree of detail that I think is very characteristic of what we see with computer graphics today.”