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As a man walked down the sidewalk of Duke of Gloucester street on a clear Friday evening in September, something across the street stopped him mid-gait.
He squinted, cocked his head and started heading down Palace Green Street.
“This is the place I was thinking about,” said Brian Kelley, an artist who lives in Fairfax but has deep roots in Williamsburg and currently has his work on display at Art House for Arts Month.
He pointed to a spot off the sidewalk — on the road — that’s just at the rim of a circle of light from a street lamp. Without hesitation, he plopped down on the spot with a nib, inkwell and paper, and began to draw.
Kelley is a former teacher and alumnus of the College of William & Mary who earned his master of fine arts degree from Indiana University, which is ranked in the top 40 best fine arts schools of 2012 by US News & World Report. He has lectured at several colleges like The George Washington University, William & Mary and Prince George Community College.
He draws, paints, makes prints and creates digital art that deals with “metaphor and perception,” according to his website. Aside from being on display at Art House this month, his work has been available to locals quite a bit — at W&M’s Andrews Gallery, Muscarelle Museum of Art and Linda Matney Gallery.
Those who have not heard of him likely have a good reason: He’s been hiding in the dark. Lately, one would more likely see him working on a piece on the road at night as he continues a series he calls Colonial Williamsburg Nocturne.
The series consists of drawings he turns into prints, which are now on display at Prince George Art and Frame. All of the works are re-creations of scenes in Colonial Williamsburg at night.
Kelley lived in Williamsburg for four years as a student and for another year as a teacher at William & Mary. He took many walks at night, during which he stumbled upon the light landscape of Colonial Williamsburg that inspired his Nocturne series.
“I just found it to be very visually captivating,” he said. “It’s very beautiful.”
Before he started the Nocturne series, he started thinking about unique light profiles he has seen around the world and depicted in different paintings. For example, he said, there is a preconceived notion of what light looks like in Florence, Italy, because so many have painted there.
It led him to search for Williamsburg’s light signature: He decided it was at night — best if it rained — in Colonial Williamsburg.
Kelley likes that the area does not have much light pollution, as the street lights are spaced far apart and dark spaces are broken up by piercing direct light, which he believes creates a new kind of landscape. It’s not heavily lit like many suburban areas or extremely dark like many rural areas, he said. It’s somewhere in between, with light emitting from the streetlights hidden in the treetops along the street, which is what drew him to it.
“You get this strong direct light going through organic forms and changing the color of the light,” he says. “It picks up some of the green of the leaves as it gets filtered through. All that is unique to the area of Colonial Williamsburg. It’s this weird idiosyncratic space that has an almost film noir mood to it.”
While many artists have painted the conventional vistas of Bruton Parish Church or Governor’s Mansion during the day – Kelley found a different aesthetic. To him, the Nocturne series is much more about light than form.
Those interested in the Williamsburg Nocturne series can catch it on display at Prince George Art & Frame through Oct. 12. He also has work on display at the Art House through Oct. 13.