On Friday, June 29th, Tony Kelly launched “Pills, Pools, and Planes,” a curated series of artwork on display at the Mondrian Hotel’s ‘Magic Box’ Exhibit in West Hollywood.
Although highly polished, Kelly’s work is known for being playfully subversive—thematically weaving in and out of the glossy veneers of L.A., while confronting stereotypes, taboos and role reversals. Elsewhere in Tony’s career, he remains highly-regarded by iconic brands and advertisers, from MAC Cosmetics and BMW, to Louis Vuitton and Philipp Plein. In 2017, his ad campaign for TNT’s Claws won him a coveted Clio award. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Often referred to as a modern-day Helmut Newton, Kelly’s quirky spin on daily life, and the cultural idiosyncrasies that surround his career, have become a major part of his distinctive and signature style.
We had the chance to speak with Tony on the night of his launch on what inspires him most about his work, the people and streets of Los Angeles, and how he connects the dots between his hometown of Dublin, Ireland, to the blue skies of L.A.
The Knockturnal: What are some of your favorite nooks and crannies to shoot in L.A?
Tony Kelly: For me, it’s not about the nooks and crannies. Hollywood is like a zoo, and it depends what animal you want to see on a particular day. I love the palm trees, I love the blue skies, and this city gives me the kind of the ingredients to cook up the perfect picture. It’s the people that roam the streets that inspire me.
The Knockturnal: What inspires you most about this city?
Tony Kelly: It’s like a theatre. Cinema inspires me to a certain point, but real life inspires me. This place here is the perfect balance between fantasy and reality. What you see surpasses the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.
The Knockturnal: What qualities do you look for in the people you choose to depict through your work?
Tony Kelly: They’ve got to bring a story. If my pictures look like a photograph, I haven’t done my job. These are like scenes; so the people I meet, they’re actors, and they can be from all different backgrounds. I just want them to have reference to life, so that when I tell them to play a certain role, they have something they can channel.
The Knockturnal: Where are you originally from?
Tony Kelly: Dublin, Ireland.
The Knockturnal: How does your hometown inspire your work?
Tony Kelly: The inspiration from my hometown is a constant in everything I do. Not necessarily in aesthetic, but in Ireland, we tend to see the funnier side of life and the irony—we’re lighthearted. We’re about seeing the humor in most situations, and that humor is absolutely the most consistent element in my work. I’m Irish to the core. I view everything from that perspective, and that’s what gives me an edge.
The Knockturnal: How did you end up here?
Tony Kelly: I came here to do a job. My first night in L.A., I spent in the Mondrian, and it was the night Michael Jackson died. The next morning, I woke up and it just all made sense, and I never went back. I bought a car after being here for a week […] It’s like a relationship. When it’s right, you don’t really have to think that much, and that’s how it was for me.
Tony Kelly’s “Pills, Pools, and Planes” artwork will be on display at the Mondrian Hotel’s ‘Magic Box’ Exhibit in Los Angeles now through July 22nd.