As Henry David Thoreau once said, "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Robert Kelley certainly stays true to these words of wisdom, as there’s a lot more to his pieces than meets the eye.
You don’t need to be an art aficionado to see why the Stockton native has taken the community by storm. This local artist continues to gain notoriety with his distinctive illustrations, which capture a variety of subjects ranging from animals to celebrities – each featuring clever subtleties that are anything but static.
His dynamic depictions can be found in local businesses, households, and throughout the world, including the Mile Wine Co. in Stockton, Napa Valley, Las Vegas and even London.
The inspiration for his artwork comes from everything he experiences, from social media to music, and all things in between. He combines his interests in art with history, research and society to create pieces that are entirely exclusive. Above all, Kelley tells the stories of the characters he captures through obvious expression and subtle nuances.
“The character and their life story give me the inspiration,” he said.
Through juxtapositions hidden in each piece, Kelley hopes to inform and stimulate his audiences.
“[My] stuff has a little darkness and lot of emotion,” he explained. “If you love it, good. If you hate it, good. I want my art to form an opinion.”
Some portraits include household names such Robin Williams, Ice Cube, Jack Nicolson and Bob Marley.
Though he primarily paints portraits using a variety of materials including pastels and alcohol, he immerses in a variety of mediums.
Kelley was born an artist. His father, who shared his artistic ability, nurtured his talent from a young age.
“I remember as a kid, four years old, sitting at a table with my dad and my siblings drawing and coloring,” he said. “Growing up, that’s what I did. I always did it in some way shape or form.”
Kelley pursued a degree in graphic design before attending San Francisco’s acclaimed Academy of Art University to study illustration. Despite his studies, he never anticipated a career as an artist, and so, he put his art on the back burner, until two years ago when “it finally just clicked.” He hit the ground running and soon, his home became his studio. However, his recent success did not come without a struggle to find his own confidence.
“I know what it’s like to have a passion but be afraid,” he said.
His goals are not only to illustrate and evoke emotions, but also, to provide a service that gives back to the 209, which he holds close to his heart.
“What I do is not about me – it’s for the world. I use the ability I’ve been given to do good for my community,” he said.
Kelley works with local charities such as the Children’s Center, March of Dimes, Art Expression of San Joaquin, and The Hospice of San Joaquin to help raise funds, and encourage the next generation of artists.
“I belong to Stockton, my artwork belongs to Stockton. And this community.”