Despite not having a solo gallery exhibition in 10 years, Cleveland artist Jake Kelly is easily one of the most prolific artists in the region. Perhaps he doesn't need a solo show: His work can be seen all over town, in murals at the Grog Shop, Melt Bar and Grilled and Blue Arrow Records, as well as in thousands of concert fliers and his collaborative comic book, The Lake Erie Monster. He may not need an exhibition, but he's getting one anyway. And we're all going to be better for it.
"I've known Jake for a long time, and I'm really excited to have him here at Gallery 160," says gallery owner Bryon Miller. "His work is somewhere between a dream and a nightmare."
Jake Kelly's A Heavy, Humid World opens with a reception from 6 p.m. to midnight during September's Walk All Over Waterloo. The exhibition includes recent works on paper, larger paintings, painted furniture and a new, self-published book showcasing fliers from the past 15 years in 420 pages of black-and-white glory.
"The work in this show doesn't all fall neatly under any particular theme, but it does deal heavily with my interests: cults, '70s radical terrorism, sex, drugs and monsters," he says. "So you'll see all of those things in various combinations, filtered through a psychedelic comic-book sensibility, in color and black and white, some with funny captions. Some of the work is meant to elicit laughter, but some of it is really gross and unpleasant. Some of it is somewhere in the middle."
Fliers: 2000-2015 is a collection of Kelly's favorite fliers from the past 15 years. He started making fliers in high school and has made thousands since.
"I've done so many fliers and they only see the light of day for a few weeks or a month at most, so I thought it'd be nice to have a few hundred bound together in a book that people could look through" explains Kelly. "I've got a couple thousand sitting in a cabinet collecting dust, so why not?"
He reflects, "I started making fliers for my high school bands in the mid-'90s, so it really started out of necessity. Other people in bands started asking me to do fliers for their bands, which was nice and very flattering. I'd do the odd flier when I was living at Speak in Tongues, but I really started doing them constantly and, ahem, 'professionally' around 2000. My girlfriend at the time pushed me to try and do some fliers for the Grog Shop and the Beachland, and not wanting to let her down, I gave it a shot. Both venues said yes, and the rest is history."
Aside from fliers, Kelly is also well known for his large murals around town, as well as his comic, The Lake Erie Monster, which he co-created with fellow Cleveland-based artist John Greiner (perhaps better known as John G.). He and John G. also co-founded Genghis Con, Cleveland's annual small press and independent comics convention. The two have known each other for a long time. They attended Fairview High School together, and John G. helped Kelly create his new Fliers book.
"I'm lucky enough to have the brilliant John G. as a friend and artistic collaborator, and as my technical wizard," Kelly says. "After I spent all day at the Cleveland Heights library scanning a giant stack of fliers, he stitched it together and helped design the cover. He's the best!"
A Heavy, Humid World includes 20 flier-sized drawings on paper, four larger drawings on paper (18-by-24 inches), two 42-by-48-inch paintings on wooden panels, two 48-by-96-inch paintings on Eucarboard, the Fliers book and a collection of Kelly's unique, hand-painted furniture.
"In the show I have a few tables, a large bench, and a new thing I came up with: these 'monsters' painted on tables with painted globes for heads. These are the things you come up with when you have a house full of tables and globes," Kelly quips.
"I started painting on furniture a few years ago. I'd see these interesting tables at thrift stores and just decided to grab a few and see what would happen. There wasn't a big risk because they were always pretty cheap. I started with these '70s-era two-tiered tables and realized I could do these interesting two-panel comic narratives, tell a tiny part of some creepy little story."
With just 100 copies of the book available, it is selling very quickly. Fear not, however, as Kelly promises that if you want a copy, you'll get a copy.
"Low print runs with me are firstly a financial issue, but also no one wants their tomb to be made of unsold copies of their weird book," jokes Kelly. "I try to print as many as I imagine might sell, then work from there. When John G. and I printed the first issue of The Lake Erie Monster, we did a low print run and had resigned ourselves to having unsold copies around for the rest of our lives. It was a pleasant surprise when we had to do a second printing, and certainly if the flier collection sells out and there are still people wanting, we can print more. A second edition is always possible, and if you want a copy, you will get a copy."
Stop by Gallery One Sixty this Friday to meet Kelly, see more of his work and grab your copy of his book. There's plenty more to see throughout Collinwood's historic Waterloo Arts District too.
The exhibition remains on view through the end of October. Additional viewing hours are available Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. and during October's Walk All Over Waterloo, set for Friday, Oct. 2.