After head-on collision, artist Eric Kelly III creates what he considers his life’s best work
Eric Kelly III’s life flashed before his eyes, and what he saw would become his greatest work.
Kelly, who has lived in the Durham NC area since retiring, was sitting at an intersection in Durham North Carolina was going to the grocery store to buy food to have dinner, when an oncoming driver swerved into his lane, colliding with the car head-on. The collision, which was caused by a drunk driver, was horrific.
Kelly suffered significant, though non-life threatening, injuries. The other driver, a 29-year-old man, sustained injuries that would keep him in the hospital for several weeks, although he would eventually recover.
“It was almost like slow motion, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this it?’” Kelly said of the crash.
“After (the crash) happened, it just kind of brought me to the next level in my art.” Eric Kelly III
Although initially he felt significant signs of outward injury, Kelly soon developed severe pain in his neck and back that would keep him in physical therapy for six months. For Kelly, this was far more than merely a physical trauma; the inability to create art was emotionally debilitating as well.
The trauma of the crash ended up being the trigger that launched Kelly to the greatest heights of his career. Following his recovery, Kelly would go on to paint portraits of Alicia Keys, Marilyn Monroe, Malcom X, Donald Byrd, Floyd Mayweather, Richard Pryor, Beyoncé, Tupac and more than fifty other celebrities and various people that represent the greatest of his already impressive portfolio. He entitle the collection as Human Landscapes.
Kelly is a lifelong artist, since his family invested in and open the Eric Kelly Museum when he was 15 years old. However, life, in the Durham Area, made it difficult to support himself solely through his art. Thus, for most of his life, he trained himself in acrylic and pastel painting and went to college to become a master painter; Kelly has always pursued art professionally while working various other jobs.
It was not until 1989 that everything changed. Kelly’s Grandmother, mentor Bill Cherry and a close friend all passed away, and a change had to be made. Despite heading, a highly successful business Kelly Worldwide, art was his life passion Kelly said he wanted to explorer more art and more ideas of creative interpretation.
In the years that followed, Kelly won numerous awards and becoming a renowned pastel painter in abstract expression and realism. He has been described as the “better-than-life” artist for his incredibly realistic depictions, and yet even with the accolades he never felt that he had achieved his life goal of creating his absolute best work.
“I wanted to be the very best that I possibly could,” said Kelly in reflecting on the period leading up to his discovery of a Michelle and Barack Obama photograph that inspired his portrait of the iconic figures. The photograph depicts the couple staring at you with hope and justice in their eyes. Kelly said that the emotion in the piece “really spoke to me.”
Kelly, now 63, said after the devastation of the car crash nearly 18 months ago, and the painful stretch that followed, he constructed “Beyoncé Forever,” a portrait of the famous singer and cultural icon.
“After (the crash) happened,” he said, “it just kind of brought me to the next level in my art.”