Jake Kelly is what you get when you mix a little bit of Cleveland punk and Ghost World with a little bit of American Splendor. While Jake is not classically trained, Melt, various pizza shops, bands, and venues like Grog Shop work have him to create murals, signage, and concert posters in a traditional style that is all his own. He’s been working for 25 years and growing his business from 8.5 by 11 sheets to projects on a much larger scale.
Jake makes posters, murals, and other art with mixed media. It’s not uncommon to find him hunkered over a desk with paper surrounding him. His first love, the concert poster, is every red-blooded American boy’s reference point for cool. Throughout his adolescence, Jake saw classic concert posters all over town. His love of those visuals evolved into a desire to begin drawing them himself.
Jake filled up sketchbooks for some time before he went to the Grog Shop and simply begged and bothered them about work until they let him draw all the posters. That was the beginning of a 25-year career making posters and then eventually evolving into one of the most distinct and seen artists in Cleveland.
Jake’s punk rock background didn’t jive with art school. The methods he uses are very much old school. He’s a pen and paper man. Nowadays everything is digital – draw it on an iPad move it to a hard drive, and upload to a shared folder. Jake loves the old ways of crumpled-up paper and starting over. He admits he tried out an iPad. However, he thinks ink and paper is the best.
“[An iPad] would be good to maybe help fill stuff in?” says Jake, although he doesn’t see it as an option for his day-to-day work.
As an avid artist through his life, Jakes style whether he knows it or not, produces emotions corporate and commercial artists and their clients try emulate. He’s amazing at drawing rubble and ruined buildings. Stylistically, as you search the details for new scenes in the background Jake’s seems to move on the wall or page, it looks like a peek into another dimension. There are hidden elements in almost every piece of work like a stripper flicking someone off, or an epic scene of massive destruction in the background. When asked about his favorite projects Jake laughingly says, “always the next one.” He loves the challenges of every new piece.
Jake gets joy from seeing his completed work. He loves working on a grand scale. Jake started with paper and now more of his pieces are murals. He’s being commissioned to leave the state and go vandalize parking lots of restaurants in Indiana and other neighboring states.
“Don’t get me wrong, when I see my work on a wall or a telephone pole I’m excited,” Jake says. “When I see it in a gutter crumpled up, I’m excited.”
He also is making pieces available for purchase on non-traditional canvases, like old trash cans or mannequins. He uses the space on these uncommon objects in a way that almost makes the form disappear and the images rendered become more visible.
There is nothing worse than describing good art. Jake’s work has plenty of layers to peel back. The imagery he inks reaches into your brain and moves things around. The point of view, the scale, all the elements come together under Jake’s brush or pen. The kind of skill you cannot learn is on full display when he rolls up his supply bag and leaves the parking lot.
If you’ve been to the original Melt, you’ve seen the work of Jake Kelly. If you’ve seen a Grog shop poster out in the wild over the last 25 years, you’ve been watching Jake grow and change into a staple of the Cleveland art world, art school be damned. Punk rock, ink, and paper made Jake one of the most visible artists in Cleveland.