The mural took him more than a year just to draw.
by Amy Brown
Michael O’Kelly sold his first piece of art at age nine while on a family vacation. He was waiting for his family to come down to the hotel lobby in St. Ives in Cornwall, after getting up early one morning, and he passed the time carefully drawing a kingfisher diving off a branch. A lady who had been watching him said, “That’s beautiful. Would you sell that to me?” O’Kelly laughingly reports, “Well, I was brought up not to talk to strangers, so…I said ‘yes’!” He asked for the price of breakfast: a half crown, and with that, made his initial foray into the world of the professional artist.
He said that from the age of 14 through about 23 years old, that he was taught by Thomas Keating, (a friend of O’Kelly’s sister), whom he deems the greatest art forger in the world. He continued drawing and painting during his 20s, while he was a classical guitarist. He then left the UK with a scholarship from the British counsel to continue his education at the University of Mexico, working on a post-graduate thesis on pre-Columbian music and dance. Later he worked at the local anthropology museum as a resident artist, going out on digs and drawing artifacts.
He first got interested in ceramics while in Latin America, because of architectural history there, along with the plethora of murals. “One of the things I loved about doing the digs and drawing artifacts, was that I came to realize some of the oldest things made on the planet by human beings are ceramics—it was pretty amazing to find that out,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to get involved with ceramics in 2000, I jumped at it, and wanted to find out how to do it, how to turn it into an aspect of my career—it was really exciting. I still feel that way about it.”
It became such an important aspect of his career that he went on to create many works of art in that demanding medium–including the beautiful ceramic mural highlighting Ventura’s history for the city’s 150th anniversary. The mural is near the San Buenaventura Mission, is 50’ long by 9.5’ high and took him more than a year just to draw. “Our son died while I was working on the mural and I nearly quit,” said O’Kelly. “It was a big responsibility, however, with about 100 private sponsors, so I found a way to make it work by incorporating him into the mural; it was a way of dealing with part of the grieving process.” O’Kelly said that homages to his son are tucked away five times in the piece, and that he now includes something honoring him into every piece of art he creates. “You really have to look hard, but they’re there” he said.
See part 2 in the Nov. 20 Ventura Breeze