Xavier Raymond Kelley Debuts ‘Going Thru thEMOTIONS’ at Columbia City Gallery

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Xavier Raymond Kelley’s Instagram bio reads “Jumping and Art,” two concepts he says are more interrelated than you’d think. The 19-year-old sophomore competes on Seattle University’s (SU) track and field team in the Long Jump, Triple Jump, and High Jump events, and is also an artist rising to citywide recognition, poised for his first gallery debut “Going Thru thEMOTIONS” at Columbia City Gallery from March 21 to May 9. 

An alumni of Franklin High School, Kelley’s athletic and artistic expressions only keep on growing. His first love was basketball, but Kelley picked up track his senior year where he excelled, eventually leading to a spot on SU’s team. Always an artist, Kelley explored drawing with markers and pastels long before moving to acrylic paint on canvas within the last year and a half. His latest work features Black athletes, basketball, ancient Egyptian imagery, and symbols that point to the complexities of racism. 

“My background is definitely in athletics — that really informs my art and the concepts and motifs that show up in my art,” Kelley said. “Art and sports are very intersectional, and they’re both very acute forms of self-expression. Just like dance is a form of art, I believe sports is also a form of art and self-expression.”

In an unusual position as an athlete and artist, Kelley knows just how sports and arts inform each other and how the lines are sometimes blurred between the two. His paintings of athletes and runners also depict the embodied constraints of racism on physical bodies. “Racism is made up, but it has a direct impact on people’s lives and their livelihood and their happiness and the way they move,” Kelley said. “I want to use my art as a way to illuminate and shed light on these issues.” 

Two paintings featured in “Going Thru theEMOTIONS” are Roaring 20s and Police Brutality, both 6 feet tall and long, respectively. Kelley’s signature foot image shows up in both. The elongated foot with toes pointed upwards symbolizes the jumper’s foot, one in which the toes are like a trampoline, ready to propel the jumper upward. 

The foot also has another meaning. 

“That foot shows up in almost all of my work in some form,” Kelley said. “That’s representative of the ways that Black and Indigenous [and] People of Color are forced to maneuver society strategically and jump over hurdles that maybe other people aren’t forced to do.” 

Male-presenting individual sits next to his artwork depicting colorful human figures.
Xavier Raymond Kelley, 19, poses with his piece “Roaring 20s.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

Recently on display at The Station cafe with some of Kelley’s other works, Roaring 20s is an homage to the 1920s, juxtaposed with the current global reckoning a century later. A bright yellow draws the viewer’s eye from the top right of the painting down to a multicolored kneeling figure, with piano and musical images. In the top left corner is a bird’s eye view of a pyramid, along with “Black Gold” written on the left side, two features that are nods to Kelley’s ancestry. Kelley’s dad’s side of the family is from Jamaica and before that, Egypt.

Police Brutality examines systemic racism in the police force. The work positions a basketball hoop and athletes against a car and the word SKRT! Kelley explained that when young BIPOC see police, their first instinct is to run away. The work also speaks to the fact that for many BIPOC youth, sports is so much more than a game. “For a lot of us, it’s a way to transcend the perils of systemic racism. Even though you’ll never really get away from racism, no matter how much money or accolades you get, sports also serves as a way — if you get good enough — you can protect yourself a little bit,” Kelley said.

Both works are for sale, and the gallery show will be the first of four throughout 2021 at Columbia City Gallery. In addition to academics, Kelley is focusing on this track and field season, now in full swing, and boosting his upcoming exhibition, which he hopes will lead to more exposure and greater opportunities as an artist. “I want to use my self-expression as a way to shed light on our experience so we can change,” Kelley said. “For people who read this, I want them to know that I’m here to stay as an artist.”

Find out more about Kelley and his work on his website.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

Featured image courtesy of Xavier Raymond Kelley.

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