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Important Australian Art / John Kelly (born 1965) Three Cows in a Pile, 2014

Lot 2
John Kelly
(born 1965)
Three Cows in a Pile, 2014
23 August 2022, 19:00 AEST

AU$60,000 - AU$80,000

John Kelly (born 1965)

Three Cows in a Pile, 2014
signed and dated lower right: 'Klly 14'
oil on canvas
91.0 x 122.0cm (35 13/16 x 48 1/16in).


Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne

Group Exhibition, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, December 2015 - January 2016

John Kelly's series of cow paintings were inspired by the wartime experiences of artist William Dobell. Dobell "served first as a camouflage labourer... He was one of a group of several, later famous, artists who had been ordered to make papier mache cows and move them around the base in the hope of fooling Japanese pilots".

Kelly himself was a talented young artist. One of seven children of English migrants, he was only able to attend art school after his mother entered a Win a Wish competition on the side of a milk carton. Prior to the recognition bought on by Dobell's Cows, as the series became known, he was twice a finalist in the Moet Chandon Award, Australia's premier annual prize for young artists. He was also awarded an Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship, which enabled him to study for two years at the Slade School of Art in London.

Dobell's Cows was to be his breakthrough series. Kelly had great fun with the compositions, constructed with his trademark sense of humour, bordering on the absurd. The cows with their bulky squared bodies, disproportionate to their elongated heads, conform to a set type of similar appearance based upon Dobell's infamous Archibald prize winner, Portrait of Joshua Smith, 1943. However, it's the context and environment in which they are placed that provides the individual narratives.

The present work, Three Cows in a Pile, depicts one of Kelly's classic compositions, a formation he had explored through various mediums including his bronze sculptures. Kelly precariously stacks three cows on top of each other, front to back to front, placed within a sparse airfield. Overwhelmingly, the mass of bodies merge to form one striking geometric pattern. Contrary to the cows' original purpose, of camouflaging army bases into agricultural paddocks. Kelly instead exposes the cows' true identities in a comical tribute to such an unusual concept.

Alex Clark

Additional information