Oli Kellett: Waiting for a Sign

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HackelBury Fine Art is pleased to present Oli Kellett ́s third solo exhibition Waiting for a Sign from 24th November 2023 until 2nd March 2024, accompanied by the artist's first monograph, Cross Road Blues, published by Nazraeli Press.  

Waiting for a Sign focuses on Kellett’s iconic Crossroad Blues series of large-scale portraits of people waiting at crossroads in urban cities across the globe from London to Mexico City and numerous across North America.  The series began in 2016 when Kellett was visiting Los Angeles during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election and the country was at a political crossroads. It continued to evolve over the following four years as a result of Kellett’s numerous visits to countries including Spain, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. 

In these times of seismic geo-political shifts and significant global events, the series has now taken on a universal significance.  It captures still moments of contemplation in which individuals question the direction they take and the life they make. Inspired by the title of Gauguin ́s painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this series reflects our existential search for an answer.

As the writer and philosopher Nigel Warburton writes in his introductory essay for the accompanying book ‘Crossroad Blues’ published by Nazraeli Press; “The step each person is about to take seems far more momentous than simply crossing a street”. As Oli Kellett explains: “I ́m looking for a moment when somebody is psychologically removed from the physical space they are in, alone with their thoughts for a few seconds.” 

The large-scale photographs in ‘Crossroad Blues’ series contrast the anonymity of urban space with the individuality of human experience. The scale of these photographs captures tangible human expression and allows the viewer to recognise a moment of conscious contemplation in their lives.

Kellett’s commitment to find the perfect light saw him walking the streets of cities for days before setting up hislarge format architectural camera and waiting to capture these private moments. The waythe buildings frame his subjects  and his focus on the light and composition creates a cinematic quality, providing a dramatic architectural backdrop to these unstaged scenes which reveal the artist’s deep interest in the human psyche. Kellett’s interest in art history began at art college, when he took up street painting to recreate Renaissance masterpieces. His last composition in the ‘Crossroad Blues’ series in 2019 on Avenida Almirante Barroso in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil shows two people looking skywards, one of them with the gesture of the finger pointing up to the sky.  Reminiscent of Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ painting, posing questions of spirituality and immortality, this was to be Kellett’s last work in the series. For him it felt like a sign and a natural stepping stone to explore more metaphysical ideas in his work. 

"I don't look for people or hunt people down. I turn up with my kit, set up and I wait for someone else to turn up on the other side of the road. I feel like we meet in the middle somehow and then we go on our separate ways. The crossroads becomes this space where I like to think people are wrestling with these big ideas – guidance, morality and the weight of decision making." Oli Kellett