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Rea Kelly is a Niagara Falls, Ontario born practicing artist whose work is currently based in the Niagara Region. She is a graduate of Brock University’s Studio Art program and a current employee at the Niagara Artists Centre. Rea is pursuing her own personal projects and artwork that has been shown in exhibitions around the Niagara Region and has been nominated for awards such as the St. Catharines Art Award in the Emerging Artist Category and for the BMO 1st Art! Competition. 

In 2022, Rea was commissioned to paint the Keys of the City for Niagara Falls, two of which she presented to honourees Howie Mandel and William Shatner for their contribution to the arts in Canada and their connection to the Falls. William Shatner live-auctioned his key with all proceeds benefiting children’s charities; the key was sold for a total of $16,500. 

Much of her work deals with the sense of self and identity, memory, as well as the psychological. She likes to deal with these themes through the figure, portraiture, and architecture and works primarily within drawing and painting. Rea is currently involved with the SWFT (Supporting Women, Femme, and Trans) Artists Group and QSAG (Queen Street Artists Group). 

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for portrait works

Much of my art practise is rooted in exploring and experimenting with the portraiture genre. I am interested in how humans and emotions are portrayed in portraits; how the human face can be challenged to reveal something beyond a superficial understanding of facial features. Through my work, I use the human face and form as a means to understand one’s identity and to visually express the more unflattering natures of the experience of human emotion.

My process of working is intuitive. I do not aim to fully represent or fully abstract the image and tend to land somewhere on that spectrum. The result of my rendering of faces is not to capture an exact likeness, but to produce a psychological emotion using the face as a point of reference. Distortion plays a major role in how I present these faces, providing an intentional unrefined look mirroring the messiness and unpredictability of emotions. I favour bold, harsh colours using layers of paint and thick, densely applied oil bar.

With a vast history of portrait painting behind me, I question how I can use the genre of portraiture to not necessarily flatter the subject, but to use the face and figure as a vessel for depicting the uglier, more painful, or even humorous internal experiences. The psychology of the figure takes precedence over any kind of accurate visual representation, as I challenge the viewer’s pre-conceived notions of what portrait art is and what it could mean.

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