Portrait of the Artist

Get to know Mathew Kelly, associate professor of art

During more than 10 years teaching art at Central College, Mathew Kelly has helped countless students navigate the creative process. As a professional artist himself, Kelly knows that the first ideas usually aren’t the best. In his classes he says, “We always go through the process of starting with sketches. Take your judgment hat off—write down lists, take notes, do sketches, make little models if you want to. The key to having a great idea is having many ideas. You’ve got to be willing to experiment.”

Kelly, associate professor of art at Central, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from University of New Hampshire and an MFA from Syracuse University. He came to the college in 2006 after stints teaching at Cayuga Community College, Syracuse University and Whitman College. As an artist, Kelly works in a wide variety of mediums but most prolifically in drawing, printmaking and book arts.

“The key to having a great idea is having many ideas.”

Q: What motivates you to create?

A: Making artwork is one of the ways I interact with the world. It is how I process ideas, deal with difficulties and explore new ways of thinking and working. It is how I shut out distractions and re-focus on what is important. Making art is how I maintain an intellectual curiosity. Life and all of its complexities motivate me to create because it is the best way I know how to make sense of it all.

Q: How long have you wanted to teach art?

A: When I was a junior undergraduate student I started thinking about teaching at the college level very seriously. I was one of the only students interested in printmaking at the University of New Hampshire so I started helping my peers learn the process and enjoyed that kind of work. From there I started to maintain the studio as if it were my own, which helped me land an assistantship in graduate school as the studio technician for the Printmaking Studios.

Q: What do you like about drawing and printmaking?

A: Drawing is a very direct and simple process that does not tie you down to special equipment, space or materials. It is versatile and something that can be done anywhere with either traditional materials such as graphite and ink, or alternative materials like leaves, chocolate syrup and gun powder, such as the work of artists Andy Goldsworthy, Vik Muños and Cai Guo-qiang. Printmaking takes drawing several steps further. There are quite a few steps in the process of printing an etching, lithograph or relief print so one has opportunities at every step to either permanently or temporarily alter an image. It can be as simple as changing the color of the ink or as involved as multiple plates or blocks. Printmaking allows one to print multiples at each step so an idea can be fully explored.

A Poisonous Thought. Ink, watercolor, graphite. 15 inches by 22 inches. See more of Mat's work at www.mathewkelly.wordpress.com

A Poisonous Thought.
Ink, watercolor, graphite. 15” x 22”
See more of Mat’s work at

Q: You taught in Mérida during spring 2016—what stands out about that experience?

A: I could talk for days about my experiences in Mérida but one of the most valuable experiences I had was staying with a host family in Tinúm. I had stayed with Susie and Julian two years prior to teaching in Mérida during a faculty development workshop and requested to stay with them a second time. They treated my wife Anne and my daughter Madeline as their own family. We saw so many similarities in our values, concerns and wishes for the futures of our children. Our last evening together was a dinner with the extended family. They sent us on our way with a small bottle of honey they harvested from their own bees “so we would remember them each time we had some tea.” This simple gesture meant a lot to us.

Q: What project are you most passionate about right now?

A: Right now, learning about the history of papermaking and books is very exciting. I have a series of small handmade books I am working on that are taking me in all kinds of directions, new and familiar. Additionally, I am revisiting some landscape ideas that I am equally excited about.

My Top 5 Places to Experience Art Are:

1 Des Moines Art Center
2 Frick Collection (New York)
3 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
4 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)
5 Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston)

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  • Ann Wilkinson


    11:51 am on February 28, 2017

    Lovely to see someone in the arts honored for his talents! Central is very lucky to have Matt Kelly!