Trinity College grounds

Easel on the Ice: John Kelly's Stunning Art Exhibition Opens at Trinity

On Thursday 22 June, the Warden of Trinity College, Professor Ken Hinchcliff, opened the second exhibition in The Professor Sir Joseph Burke Gallery, Beyond Woop Woop. 

The exhibition features over 50 paintings from internationally acclaimed Irish-Australian artist John Kelly, who was artist-in-residence with the Australian Antarctic Division, and captures the beauty of ice through paint.

Lara Nicholls (TC 1986), Assistant Curator of the National Gallery of Australia– Australian Painting and Sculpture, National Gallery of Australia, and the curator for the 2018 Lorne Sculpture Biennale introduced John on the evening.

Lara explained to the large audience in attendance the extreme nature of the paintings and John's unique technique of painting en plein air.

'Unlike many other artists who have gone to Antarctica, John, in fact, painted en plein air. Which means he took all his kit and his paint and easel and his very carefully prepared canvas board, went out into the open and painted en plein air in Antarctica,' said Lara.    

Lara encouraged those present to observe the paintings in The Burke Gallery directly as the only way to truly appreciate the works.

'I’ve seen them in books and I’ve looked at them online, when you actually see them in the flesh, you get that sense, you know he has actually been to that place, he has wonder watched and he has come away with this body of work which is really quite extraordinary.' 

John then enthralled the audience giving an abridged version of his life as an artist, from where it all started at Sunshine Technical School through to being selected for the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship for a two-month expedition in 2013.

John told of reading Moby Dick as he journeyed across the Southern Ocean, the beautiful ‘nunataks’, rocky mountaintops that jut out through the ice which surrounded their base at Mawson, the blizzards and the ‘locals’ including the Emperor penguins, the skewers and the snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) that they encountered throughout their time in Antarctica.

He told of the helicopter crash involving three of his friends and colleagues who were caught in a blizzard and the subsequent dramatic rescue operation undertaken to save them. The loss of one of the Division’s helicopters culminated in his returning to Australia after three months, bringing to a slightly premature end his incredible experiences living in the southernmost region of the world.     

‘It might have taken about 6-8 hours, landing in Hobart, clearing customs, getting back on the plane and flying back to Melbourne as the only passenger from Hobart to Melbourne. The next day I was on the beach at Torquay and it was 40 degrees,’ said John.

John generously donated a painting, several etchings and prints to be sold during the course of the exhibition, which will be on show from now and throughout second semester. The money raised will endow an Artist-in-Residence Fund that will allow Trinity to continue its active engagement and support of the visual arts.

A fantastic book and catalogue of John’s works, including his blog entries for The Guardian newspaper alongside a collection of photographs taken during John’s expedition, is available through the College’s Advancement Office, along with a small number of limited edition etchings and carborundum prints.

You can view photos from the evening here.

The exhibition - Beyond Woop Woop: John Kelly’s Antarctic Paintings - is on display to the general public on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am - 4pm*, or by arranged appointment.

For further details please contact Major Gifts Officer, Jennifer Wraight at or call 9348 7473.

* During J


Category: Supporting