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Slideshow: Shelby Kelley's Revolucionary art

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You may recall the murals in the La Bamba restaurant in Broad Ripple before they were painted over and replaced by sober looking early 20th Century photos of Mexican villagers. Since then, the interior of La Bamba’s been a lot more, well, sober. But if you liked those old murals — the one featuring a Burrito-head pulling in front of the competition at an Indy 500 race was particularly memorable — then chances are you’ll love the large scale paintings by Shelby Kelley in Revolucion, a bar/café that opened on June 14 in Indy’s Fountain Square.

The triptych you notice when you first walk in features a deceased mariachi band. The left-hand panel in the triptych features two skeletons in traditional garb and sombreros playing guitars; the singer skeleton in the center panel brandishes a microphone. In the right hand panel you see one skeleton playing a violin, the other on a trumpet. All of the mariachi band skeletons have fire in their eyes. You see the alternating orange and yellows, from a presumably setting sun behind these musicians.

But this triptych isn’t the only work that sets the mood in this cantina with a tiki bar out back.
There’s also a panel painting of a red devil with horns and stars in his eyes and there’s another painting of a skeleton dancer, wearing a garland of roses, who holds aloft what appears to be a crystal ball. Smaller paintings on the walls feature portraits of masked wrestlers. Then there’s the sombrero-wearing, mustachioed skeleton with a pistol in each of his bony hands, arms crossed in front of his chest. You can see this logo on the Revolucion Facebook page.

The artist, Shelby Kelley, wears many sombreros, as it were, (he is also a prolific musician and an occasional contributor to NUVO). He was brought in during the design phase of this new restaurant venture by David “Tufty” Clough, the owner of Radio Radio across the street.

“Since I play somewhat regularly at Radio Radio, I'd known about Revolucion early on,” says Kelley. “Tufty took me over at various times to see its progression and it's amazing what all they've done. Initially they approached me about designing a logo for them, but once they got deeper into the construction and got the layout figured out, they asked me about painting the panels.”

Although Kelley was given a general idea about what was wanted, he had complete freedom as far as the designs are concerned on his acrylic on recycled board paintings.

“For me,” says Kelley, “it was really strange in the beginning to be painting devil heads and skeletons for a restaurant and it took me quite a while to relax and go with it without second guessing everything.”
And yet, these images might already be familiar to you. They’d certainly fit in as part of the annual Day of the Dead show at the Indianapolis Art Center every October. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday where friends and relatives remember and pray for their deceased relatives. But the Day of the Dead is a time for celebration rather than for grieving.

Why not have restaurant art that acknowledges the fact of death but also laughs in the face of it?
The colors in Shelby Kelley’s work on display in Revolucion are bold and bright. The paintings succeed in creating a certain ambience in this sleek cantina where you can find fish tacos beside sausage in puff pastry on the menu.

While the ambience is neither somber nor sober thanks to the way the various pieces of the puzzle (art, design, food) come together so well here, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary in this particular cantina. Unless, that is, you’re talking about the way that artists and entrepreneurs have come together here to help bring Fountain Square nightlife back from the dead.

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