Monday, August 02, 2010

Phil Kelly

Amarillo Anáhuac
I'm very sad to learn that my friend Phil Kelly passed away last night in Mexico City, the city he loved and that loved him back. Phil, who was originally from Ireland,  painted his adopted city with wit and verve. Not many local painters train their eyes on the urban jumble that is Mexico City; not many people can see the beauty beneath the grime, but Phil did. He could look at its ugliest buildings, its most impossibly trafficked intersections, its mustiest cantinas, and bring them to life with loose but precise strokes and an amazing use of color: witty, generous, expressive, and never overwhelming. He could distill the essence of a place and fill it with light. His paintings of Mexico City, Oaxaca and other cities afford you a totally new way of looking at places that you recognize, even if you've never been there.

I am very lucky to have a Phil Kelly, a generous gift from Mr. Ex-Enchilada. It's an oil painting of Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's version of the Champs Elysees.
In Phil's hands, the avenue is a vertiginous river of cars, an orange swath of paint, stubborn blue palm trees billowing in the exhaust wind, and what I most love about it, a sky the color of clotted cream, a classic Mexico City sky on those days where your throat itches and your eyes water. Rising in the middle of this wide panorama is the Monument to the Independence, El Ángel, almost dwarfed by all that crazy motion around it, but still shining over the fierce metropolis like a little fairy.

I saw Phil last January in Mexico City. I parked myself at the Xel-Ha and let people know I was there (something you can do at the cantinas of Mexico City, where there is always one more chair to add to any table). Not many came but I was happily surprised when Phil arrived with his indomitable wife Ruth. Sweetly, he came bearing  gifts for my birthday. A lovely little etching and a lovely little book with some of his paintings of Mexico.

El Angel

Circuito de Noche

León Condesa Jardín Principal
I met Phil when I was in my twenties and moving out of my parents' house to go live in la Condesa (in those days it was full of old Jews and new artists, and gracefully bereft of enforced hipness). I moved into Phil's bedroom in an old apartment building in Campeche Street. Phil moved out to a bigger place where he had much more room to paint, and if I'm not mistaken, which was his home and studio until last night.
Phil had a wicked sense of humor and he was a lovely man. I'm very sad that he is gone. But we are lucky that he left behind all that color, all that incredible art.

Parnell Square, Dublin, I believe

If this isn't Paris, I don't know what is. 

Mexico City, no doubt.


  1. Last Wednesday I attended an opening of Phil Kelly's work in Dublin. ....vibrant and full of life. Hard to imagine he is gone from us

  2. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Very comforting to come across such a warm tribute to Phil, at the moment it's still unbelievable and hard to come to terms with. Coming across this helps a great deal. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous6:43 PM

    To briefly add to the above, just to say I live in Bath in England and have known Phil since we were at college. Very many people will miss him. Extra thoughts for Ruth and the girls.

  4. Rosie Winstone1:18 PM

    Heard today, Wed 4th. Spent so many happy times with Phil in Hackney and Whitby, with one of his best friends, Jerry, then my partner. Am lucky too to have some of his work - dazzling and vivid, like he was.

  5. Tim McNally9:20 PM

    I've just learned of Phil's passing. I knew him briefly in 1975 in Hackney and Bath. A lovely man. Such a shock to hear he's gone.

  6. john nugent2:55 PM

    i have only heard the sad news of Phil's passing, not having seen Phil since the eighties i was shocked to hear of this ;I see from tributes paid Phil he was the same lovable person i knew from whitby;
    i am sure all the people who knew Phil from that time will be deeply saddened by his untimely death, my thoughts are with you Ruth and your children

  7. Out of the blue, I decided to Google Phil to see what he might be up to and a link to this blog came to the top of the heap.

    Ironically, I purchased a wonderful painting Phil did on a stone tile, back in 1991, on The Day of The Dead in Mexico City. He ran out of canvas at times, but never ideas or the impulse to express himself.

    He was filled with exuberance and delight—this sad little planet is significantly diminished by his passing.