Frank Kelley Jr. is one of two featured artists at the Old Post Office Museum’s exhibit “Iron and Abstracts.” The exhibit runs through Aug. 2.
The internationally renowned artist paints in a contemporary style flavored with creative imagination. His work is featured throughout the United States and abroad in such venues as the Charles Wright African American Museum and the Color Purple exhibit.
“I draw my inspiration from the message I want to say but can’t verbalize,” Kelley said. “So, I paint my message in abstract form. This message is from my heart, soul and body.”
Kelley is more than an artist who paints landscapes, figures and abstracts. Kelly is a minister, businessman, consultant and community advocate.
As a community advocate, Kelley established Youth Arts Initiative Program in 2001 to give young people the opportunity to succeed through art. Through his program, Kelley has worked with youth from Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and indian reservations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of youth through this program,” Kelley said.
Additionally, his arts initiative program works with youth who are suffering from mental issues.
“Art is therapeutic,” Kelley said. “Sometimes people need a safe place to go, and art provides that place. Art is a safe place for me, and it can be a safe place for anybody else.”
Kelley is also a business consultant who works with companies to build diversity inclusion.
“I work with businesses to bring unity among the workforce,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s art studio is located at 410 N 6th Street in West Monroe.
Kelley grew up in rural north Louisiana in the Chatham area. He remembers doodling as a child but did not receive any formal arts training until his days as a student at Grambling State University.
After showing pencil sketches to an art professor and taking a fine arts class at Grambling, Kelley changed his major from management to fine arts.
“(The professor) looked at my work and said I had an eye for balance and perspective,” Kelley said.
After graduating with a fine arts degree and a minor in management, Kelley bounced around working for companies such as ATT&T and MCI until landing at Monroe Auto World.
Kelley worked for the vehicle lot for 16 years while honing his painting skills “behind the scenes.”
“I met a lot of wonderful people during my years working for Monroe Auto World,” Kelley said. “While working there my goal was to improve my landscape, figure and abstract paintings.”
The step of faith
Kelley used Arts & Antiques magazine as a guide to improving his paintings. As his skill level advanced, Kelley submitted some his art to the magazine and was chosen as an emerging artist.
“This was a great opportunity,” Kelley said. “But at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of being chosen emerging artist.”
Kelley and his art would soon be put in the national spotlight as General Motors invited him to its summer / winter conference. Major vendors, executives, dealers and their family attended the conference, and Kelley was scheduled to be the featured artist.
“People started purchasing the art and this led me to a publicist who led me to Suzanne de Passe,” Kelley said.
De Passe is an American television, music and film producer who helped develop the Jackson 5’s wardrobe and act.
Kelley was invited to present one of his painting to de Passe at a gala event in Los Angeles Museum of Art. After de Passe’s event, Kelley was one of 25 artists featured at the Color of Purple exhibit sponsored by Oprah Winfrey.
During this time of his career Kelley decided to take a “step of faith” and launch full time as an artist.
“I decided I was going to stay true to my work,” Kelley said. “I was going to paint landscapes. I was going to paint figure and abstracts. I decided to stay true to my church values and stay true to what I have known all my life.”
Kelley continues to stay true to his work and his values as his work depicting people and scenes of north Louisiana hang on the walls and halls of art lovers throughout the United States and world.
During the “Iron and Abstracts” exhibit, His vibrant-colored abstracts are paired with Jack Harrington’s sculptures from trashed auto parts at the Old Post Office Museum located in downtown Winnsboro.