On the coffee table

John Melville Kelly’s oeuvre, unveiled
Comes with video
Hawaiian Idyll / Hawaiian Idyll: The Prints of John Melville Kelly
Natasha Roessler Drucker,
Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2009,
158 pages, $39.95

In a small-scale but profound exhibition of art and historical documentation, it becomes clear that John Melville Kelly’s creative legacy is as riveting today as it was 50 years ago. In the first-ever monograph produced on the notable printmaker, Natasha Roessler Drucker’s Hawaiian Idyll documents Kelly’s career while showcasing some of his most extraordinary Hawaiian prints.

Kelly’s career flourished during the four decades he spent inhabiting, and capturing the essence of, Hawaii. Hawaiian Idyll communicates and illustrates his love for the Islands and his nearly life-long artistic tribute to the Hawaiian people. Many of Kelly’s most memorable prints are the portraits of his closest friends, family and acquaintances, but the prolific artist skillfully connects the individual image to an expressively warm representation of the Polynesian race. Drucker’s literary documentation communicates, for the first time, the history behind the spontaneous naturalism found in many of Kelly’s portraits.

In addition to his masterful prints, Kelly’s wife, Kate, a prolific sculptor and the original inspiration behind his first printmaking efforts, is mentioned throughout the book, with images of her portraiture and sculpture sprinkled among the pages. Often sharing the same models, Kelly and his wife created an interchange of somewhat mysterious artistic expression often resulting in evocative images of Hawaiian women.

Aside from its nostalgic appeal, Hawaiian Idyll represents 40 years of Kelly’s dedication to preserving Hawaii’s culture through a delicate balance of art, text and empty space. Mostly likely, one’s initial read will be an impatiently swift glance through the remarkable images while paying little attention to text; a second time through, one’s eyes may drift to the bold subtext, but after a third, one will most likely find the perfect reading lamp and the softest chair while indulging in an alluring collection of art.