Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Barnes & Noble's Mural Guy

Walk into a typical Barnes & Noble bookstore in the USA, seek out the Starbucks coffee shop area and you're likely to see a printed mural filled with images of authors -- images that lurk in a gray area between caricature and portraiture. I find them interesting and will gaze at them from time to time while sipping my coffee and scribbling blog post subject ideas on a paper napkin.

I've been curious who created the murals, but my habitual sloth held me back until now. Some Googling revealed the artist to be Gary Kelley, an apparent hardcore Iowan who got his art degree from the University of Northern Iowa (located in Cedar Falls, which is right by Waterloo) in 1968 and lives in Cedar Falls. This might sound provincial, yet Kelley has carved out a successful career as an illustrator without having to spend his life in the likes of Chicago or New York.

Kelley's web site is here and a biographic sketch from a local art gallery is

Below are examples of his work. His range is broader than shown, so check out his web site for more.


Here's a sketch of fellow Iowan Grant Wood, best known for "American Gothic," the über-iconic image of rural Americans.

Nothing to do with Iowa, this is an illustration (or possibly a painting -- I'm not sure which) of Mata Hari, executed for espionage during the Great War.

These three images are 1920s Europe. Kelley seems to have an affinity for the 20s and 30s, an affinity I share which led me to include so many of these works. By the way, the distorted car in the lower image seems to be an Hispano-Suiza, if the radiator-cap mascot is any clue.

I suppose some folks might carp because Kelley tends to favor the bon-ton over the proletariat. But it doesn't bother me, as I'll explain in a forthcoming post.

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