“There's a huge nostalgic aspect in the automobile that I think pretty much every photorealist who paints a car is trying to tap into. It's ‘remember how things used to be beautiful. Don't forget. Don't forget how much we valued beauty,'” Kelley said.
“The reason why I do it doesn't have to do with trying to identify with the photorealists using nostalgia. It has to do with my own personal history and my own reasons for being nostalgic about the cars.”
Another contemporary photorealist featured in the exhibit, Peter Maier, also has a personal and long-held love of vehicles: He is a former car designer for General Motors.
Even when he isn't rendering cars in meticulous detail, as with his huge black-and-white close-up of a vintage Auburn roadster, his past influences his artwork. Maier created his massive painting of a baby chicken with custom-formulated automotive paint on a panel of black aluminum, giving it an uncommonly smooth and glossy finish.
A classic car collector since her dad gave her a 1972 Datsun roadster convertible for a high school graduation gift, Kelley frequents car shows, where she takes thousands of photos that become the basis for her paintings.
“I don't care what kind of engine it has: It's shiny and it's beautiful. I love the car for the aesthetic value. I don't care what kind of shocks you have on it,” she said. “I want the body to look good, and if it runs, it's fine with me.”
Working from photos not only allows the Fortuna, Calif., resident to recreate tiny details such as the crosshatching inside a headlight or a bystander reflected on the bumper, side and top of a vintage hot rod, it also allows her to capture one fleeting moment of beauty.
“To capture one split second, technically, it's really interesting to do that, but I think there's a philosophy behind it, too, that says that split second is important. And to see that, to steal that one second in time and say, ‘This is important, pay attention, because basically every second is important,' the paintings almost make you just appreciate life more,” Kelley said.
“For me, as a painter/philosopher, it's a good way to show the world. ... Don't just walk by and think, ‘Oh, it's just a car.' No. There's something magical happening here that you need to look at, and I'm trying to show it to you.'”