Vintage “Junk” animates “Robot Girl”

One apt description for the art that Judy Kelly creates is “vintage assemblage.

” Wandering through flea markets, she often finds the devices, machinery parts and assorted instruments of yesteryear required for her whimsical fabrications.

“Flea markets are my favorite haunts,” says the Enola woman. “When I first visited them and started to sift through boxes of dirty and rusty junk, I’d often hear, ‘What’s a girl doing looking through those things?’ Once the vendors got to know me, they started to save things that they thought I might be able to use.”

The art of assemblage came to the general public’s attention with the Pop Art movement of the mid 20th century. Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was a leading American practitioner. The process of cobbling together disparate and unrelated pieces into a unified form demands that the artist thinks outside of the box. Kelly does it well, and with enthusiasm.

“I love every single part of it,” she says. “The collecting, sorting, fabricating, the sharing, the responses – everything is so positive.”

Kelly’s pieces resemble human or animal forms, so she dubs them “robots.” It is an appropriate moniker as most of the parts used to construct them are made of metal, plastic, glass and fabric. She refers to herself as “Robot Girl.” Parts are commonly joined with wire, but E 6000 epoxy is applied when necessary.

“The robots need to be durable as well as enjoyable to look at,” she says.

Kelly’s approach to each robot is assiduous.

“I plan the assembly carefully, determining that the pieces will go together as intended. Major considerations are weight, balance and permanence. I will apply some embellishment, but not with every one. The goal is to accomplish the most with a minimum of parts.”

Kelly was an art major in high school, but she earned elementary education and special education degrees from Penn State. She taught elementary special education in the Cumberland Valley School District before leaving the profession to manage her own day-care facility.

Another challenge that Kelly has embraced is size. “I have a 5-foot-high antique bird cage that will be the skeleton for a larger robot,” she says.

Beginning five years ago, a series of classes at the Art Association of Harrisburg (artassocofhbg.com) rekindled youthful interests.

“I took instruction in abstract painting, mixed media and collage,” she says. “Among others, those classes served to lay the base for my current efforts with assemblage.” She is a member of the Mixed Media Art Group (mixedmediaartgroup.com), a confederation of local artists that meets monthly to discuss work and share critiques.

Kelly’s work was most recently on display at the January-February Art Association of Harrisburg’s Winter Membership Show, Fairytales, Fables & Fantasies.

Previous exhibits included last September’s 24th annual Harrisburg Gallery Walk and the Mixed Media Art Group Show (December-January) at Arts on Union in Middletown (artsonunion.com).

Summarizing her experience, Kelly muses, “Men who examine the robots will often identify the parts. The women like the names and ‘personalities.”

Although Kelly’s robots are generally products of her imagination, clients have occasionally offered ideas of their own. “That’s a new door that has opened,” she says. “It’s a different process. But it’s a challenge that I have accepted.”

Another challenge that Kelly has embraced is size. “I have a 5-foot-high antique bird cage that will be the skeleton for a larger robot,” she says. “As the other parts for it are obtained, they are placed inside the cage until the time arrives when I can begin assembly.”

Summarizing her experience, Kelly muses, “Men who examine the robots will often identify the parts. The women like the names and ‘personalities,’ and the kids ask me about the various parts, taken from implements that they are too young to have used. My robots bring back memories, and I learn something new every time I share them.”

Interested readers may contact the artist at skipbay@comcast.net.

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