Susan Kelly's Meditations on Light

By David P. Kozinski                                 

“Repurposed Bottles Contain Light” is the title of an exhibition that features Susan Kelly’s mixed-media/bottle glass mosaic works, along with original artwork in various media and styles by members of the Manayunk-Roxborough Artists Co-Op.

A fascination with bottle glass began in Susan Kelly’s youth, which she spent in Montgomery County, PA, where she lives today with her husband. While taking a class called Tile and Mosaics in 2005, the instructor said that bottle glass was not typically used in mosaic art, partly because of its sharpness. Not deterred, Kelly learned how to cut bottle glass safely for her mosaic projects. She notes that the patterns she chooses are guided by her practice of consulting the I Ching and that a key motivation in her creativity has been, “an attitude and acceptance of making do,” with the materials at hand.

“Siblings” is a rectangular mosaic, oriented in a “diamond” shape, that presents a repeated and complex geometric pattern, rendered primarily in blue, black, light brown and green. Kelly writes that the work, “is very much influenced by my reading of a lesson on compassion from the Dalai Lama. The eternal knot, one of the 8 auspicious symbols in Buddhism…is a symbol that I find fascinating.” She notes that, “the four knots, each connected with the blue elements,” represent herself and her siblings. As she created the piece, the artist considered the symbolism of the eternal knot and its relation to the infinite. “The idea of more than one infinity is something fun to consider,” she adds.

“Gold Continuum” is an octagon in mostly gold, amber and pearly white that suggests a rosette or a wheel with an Art Deco sensibility. Similarly, “Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay” resembles a cathedral’s rose window. The central construction, comprised of amber petals, is surrounded by patterns of squares and circles. The circumference of the work is set by trapezoids, alternating in brown and tan shades. Interspersed green leaves reinforce the floral motif. Kelly explores more possibilities for the medium in “6-5-4-3” and “Afflictive Impact”. The former’s six-armed figure, rendered in dark colors, suggests an urchin of the ocean’s depths. The latter contains nine square panels, each depicting a little planet. The “broken” panels at left and center introduce an emotional element to the artwork that echoes the title.

Kelly’s first solo show took place in 2014 at Art in the Storefront in Ambler, PA. She won first prize in the “Power of the Flower” exhibit at the Markheim Art Center in Haddenfield, NJ in 2013. Her work has been selected for juried shows at Abington Art Center, the Markeim, and at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center. Kelly has been a member of the Mosaic Society of Philadelphia since 2012 and has exhibited her work at the Tyme Gallery in Haverford, PA and the Roxborough Development Corporation’s gallery, among other venues. She is also a photographer, who has received Honorable Mention awards in juried shows at Abington and at the JAM Gallery in Malvern, PA. She earned an Associate’s Degree in Art from Montgomery County Community College and has studied at the Tyler School of Art.

Kelly displays a sense of irony in titling “Fitting In”, which features a near circle in the foreground that doesn’t quite fit into the square, framing figure behind it. The round figure offers black, white, green and blue hues and, fittingly, subordinates the light-blue frame. In contrast to many of Kelly’s works, this piece departs definitively from symmetry, which allows the artist a freer mode of expression. Nevertheless, she has a wide variety of decisions to make in the less free-form works. The colors of the “targets” that characterize “Yarrow Stalks”, while framed in an elongated, horizontally inclined rhombus, are not symmetrically ordered. Most of these circular shapes have a predominant color – blue, black, off-white, green, etc. – each of which is repeated and varied. This juxtaposition can distract the eye from the triangles that offset each target. As the viewer looks around the piece, he realizes that it is comprised of six-pointed stars.

Kelly far exceeds “making do” with her materials. Her precise settings and purposeful color choices, evidenced in all these meditative works, elevate the humble materials into realms conceptual, emotionally satisfying and, above all, aesthetically pleasing.

“Repurposed Bottles Contain Light” opens Sunday, September 11, 2016 from 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., during which Kelly will demonstrate her bottle cutting techniques and discuss her mosaic process. Presented at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC), 419 Green Lane (rear), Philadelphia, PA 19128.

On Sunday, September 18th from 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M., Kelly will offer a workshop at MRAC on creating mosaics. $80.00 covers fees and materials; limited to 10 participants, 18 years of age or above. A closing reception is Sunday, September 25th from 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Other exhibit dates are September 11th, 17th, and 24th. Gallery hours at MRAC are 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. For more information see or call 215-657-1090.

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