Kelli Scott Kelley was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1961 to Gladys Runnels, an elementary school principal. Kelley's mother was the first person to introduce her to the arts. As a young child, mother and daughter would often paint together images of swamps and still-lives and even abstract pieces. Kelley eventually would attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School (the first year of its inception, 1976) and majored in art. It was during her time at Baton Rouge High that she became interested in photography.
She received her Bachelors in Fine Arts from Louisiana State University in 1984 and later went to University of Massachusetts-Amherst to complete a Masters in Fine Arts. While her focus at LSU had been printmaking, she decided to switch her concentration to sculpture in graduate school when she became interested in installation. It was at her thesis reception that she met now husband, Bill Kelley who was studying electronic sound engineering. The two began to collaborate which in turn introducted performance to her installations. Directly after graduating from UM-Amherst, Kelley took an instructor position at Mount Holyoke College where she taught printmaking. She eventually moved to Texas with husband, Bill Kelley, where she had a few different jobs; as a printmaker for James Surls, and adjunct professor at Houston Community College. In 2000 she moved back to her hometown in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she took a professorship at LSU School of Art and Design and continues to hold the position today.
Kelley works with paintings, drawings, mixed media, and also does video and performance art. According to Kelley's own statement published on her website,
"Through personal and universal icons my work explores multiple states of reality. Symbolic figures, animals, and objects appear in narratives, which explore humankind’s connections, disconnections and impact upon the animal world. We love some animals and sweetly distort them in books to entertain and teach our children lessons. We also grow animals in inhumane conditions, slaughter them and cause their extinction. I appropriate images of animals from popular culture, taxidermy and hunting catalogs, natural history illustrations and other diverse sources to conjure images that reflect on this human and animal link."
Kelley's most recent work, Accalia and the Swamp Monster, is a fairy tale she wrote and designed herself. The story is about a girl with two dog faces for a head and her journey to retrieve the arms of her father that were torn from him by her winged lioness mother and fed to the swamp monster. Kelley claimed in an article from October 4, 2014 that the fairy tale contains themes from her own upbringing with a dysfunctional family mixed in with Roman mythology and fairy tale. Kelley's inspiration for this project came after an excursion to Northern Italy to study Renaissance art. She saw paintings where the old masters would depict entire biblical stories with art and felt it was possible to do this with fairy tales as well. The art pieces of the fairy tale are mixed media, typically paintings on antique linens and textiles. A few of these images are available on the right. The LSU Museum of Art is hosting the Accalia and the Swamp Monster exhibit until January 29, 2015. The exhibit is scheduled to tour in other museums and galleries around the country.
Image taken from the LSU School of Art and Design webpage for Kelli Scott Kelley