Grateful John says ‘thank you’ with unusual work of art for charity

July 16th, 2021 8:00 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Ann Davoren, director of the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre proudly displays ‘Three Pigeons in Flight’, donated by John

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ACCLAIMED artist John Kelly who’s ‘lucky to be alive’ is showing his appreciation for West Cork Rapid Response by selling an unusual work of art for the charity.

John’s work is held in many major public and private collections throughout the world and from time to time the artist, who lives at Reen, near Union Hall, sells paintings and sculptures to raise funds for the voluntary emergency service.

Soethby’s recently sold a beautiful painting called Castlehaven, which raised more than €10,000 for the charity and now it’s the turn of Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.

There is one big ticket item in the annual members’ exhibition in Skibbereen, which runs until July 15th next – called Three Pigeons in Flight – but there are also numerous, much less expensive, laser cut replicas of his most famous work, Cow in a Tree.

John, who has been cocooning since the coronavirus struck, had health issues that dated back to catching flu in his native Australia in 2017.

‘I fell ill and never really recovered,’ he told The Southern Star. ‘The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me and on August 12th 2018 I collapsed at Reen Farm.’

If it wasn’t for the rapid response team, including Dr Matt Dahm and Dr Jason Van der Velde, he dreads to think what might have happened.

They got him to Cork University Hospital, where he remained for the next nine months, battling various health issues including micro bleeds of the vessels surrounding the brain.

Stela Lefter, his neurologist, is also credited with saving his life. ‘She brought me back from a very serious condition.

‘She also got advice from the Mayo Clinic that led to a change of medication and me walking out of the hospital very soon after that.’

During all of this, John was forced to contemplate his own mortality.

He is alive, well and busy, although it was only in mid-2020 that he could start working again. Last year, he had a successful solo exhibition in Australia.

That success came after losing three years of international exhibitions, yet in the midst of all this both he and his wife Christina are determined to ‘keep donating bits and pieces as we can afford it.’

‘I am a very lucky guy,’ he said, ‘I am very grateful that I am here and to be able to give something back, even if it is a drop in the ocean to what is needed.’ The sculpture for sale at the exhibition in Skibbereen –   priced €7,000 – was inspired by his nine-month stay at CUH.

When he was leaving the hospital, he took a souvenir, three cardboard pigeons, the urine receptacles used by male patients who are bedridden.

Soon after returning home, he made the bronze cast of the three pigeons. ‘One might think I am taking the p*** with this work, but I am not!’ he said. It simply acknowledges an extraordinary experience, and gives a nod to the three doctors – Dr Matt, Dr Jason and Stela Lefter – who helped him emerge from his ‘Cuckoo’s nest.’

The artwork has a very personal meaning, said John, coming as it does from the depths of despair.

Even today, John continues to cocoon.

‘My neurologist said I have to be very careful because of my condition, my medication, and the fact that my immune system is compromised.

‘But on the upside, I can keep painting and making sculptures, which is what I love doing and will continue to do.’

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