David Kelly

From the Echo, first published Saturday 26th May 2001.

His paintings sold like hot cakes in Dorset until he seemed to vanish. Whatever happened to artist David Kelly? The dark continent casts a spell over those who visit it - and for many a life-long love affair with Africa begins from the moment they step off the plane and into the lush, tangled history of the continent and its inhabitants. If someone could bottle the essence of Africa, he'd be a rich man indeed. For artist David Kelly, oil and canvas are the ingredients he uses to recapture the elusive and essential quality that sums up the continent of his birth. From animals roaming vast arid plains to surreal paintings showing the suffering of tribeswomen weeping for a tragic past, David has captured the story of his Africa in a particularly idiosyncratic style. Yet perhaps that should be no surprise - David is himself an idiosyncrasy among both painters and Africans - he is a half-African, half-Irishman who emigrated to Poole in 1986 to begin painting in oils full time. David said: "I set off to make my fortune as an artist and was very lucky to end up in Poole, as I met up with a gallery owner there who really liked my work." For five years David lived and worked in Poole, selling his work through a network of art galleries throughout the area. He said: "These were really happy times for me. I was beginning to build up a reputation as a wildlife artist and was making a living doing what I wanted to do." Then, in 1991 the gallery closed. David returned to Malawi to continue his career as an artist in his native land. David said: "There were a lot of people in and around Poole who had begun to collect my work, but because I was simply the artist, I was never able to find out who they were. I have since discovered that a lot of people have tried to find out where I was, but I never received any of the messages." David is now Malawi's foremost wildlife painter, and his work is collected by private and corporate clients all over the world. He has sold several works through Christies and has built up a strong following in America and Africa. The artist has also now returned to the UK where he lives with his Scottish wife, Kay, and eight-year-old daughter Kathleen in a tiny village in the Scottish Borders. David now spends half of his time painting and sketching while travelling thousands of miles throughout the national parks of Africa in a live-in safari van, and the other half of his time with his family in Lochmaben. He has just returned from an extended trip to the South Luangwe National Park in Zambia, where he was sketching and taking photographs for a series of paintings he'll produce for a book entitled Memories of Eden. David will be producing around 150 paintings for the book which will be a comprehensive study of the park, its flora and fauna. This will be David's second book; his first was one about the elephants of the Liwonde National Park in Malawi.