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Mike Kelley (work of art)

Artwork Info

(variable dimensions)


Gift in honor of Dr. Lawrence J. Wheeler, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art (1994–present) from Julian T. Baker Jr., Rhoda L. and Roger M. Berkowitz, Dr. Thomas D. Brammer and Mr. Robert S. Watson, Angeline J. Bryant, Blake Byrne, Marion Johnson Church, Paul Edward Coggins, Dr. W. Kent Davis, Joyce Fitzpatrick and Jay Stewart, Dr. Carlos Garcia-Velez, Marty Hayes and Michael Cucchiara, Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn Hayes, Eric and Tara Hirshberg, Ian Huckabee, Bill G. Johnson, Thomas S. Kenan III, Suzanne R. McKinney, R. Glen Medders, Dr. Cynthia S. Payne, Melissa Peden and Robert Irwin, Susan L. Petry, Michael Rubel and Kristin Rey, Kimerly Rorschach, Jeffrey Williams and Patrick Sears, Allen G. Thomas Jr., Caroline Hickman Vaughan, Robert A. Sandefur and Robert P. Venuti, Drs. Zannie and Glenn Voss, Caroline and Richard Wright, and James Walker Crow; Technology funded with generous support from IBM Corporation.



Jennifer Steinkamp, a Los Angeles–based artist with a background in graphic design and digital animation, creates high-definition video projections that combine computer technology, digital animation software, and projected light. Her extremely sophisticated and spectacularly beautiful works utilize light, color, and movement to create hybrid images inspired by the natural world but created entirely by her using 3-D computer animation software. Juxtaposing the real and the artificial, the natural and the manmade, she exaggerates and heightens elements of the natural world to make something that appears hyperreal and magical.

Mike Kelley is a luminous eight-minute animation of a single tree depicted as it changes through the seasons—endlessly cycling, every two minutes, from the green leaves of spring to the pink blossoms of summer to the varied colors of autumn leaves to bare winter branches. The tree’s trunk is firmly rooted in the ground, as if it is growing out of the floor, but its branches slowly swirl and sway in a poetic, mesmerizing, and highly choreographed dance. Steinkamp’s radiant trees take on anthropomorphic qualities, like characters from a bewitched, enchanted forest, and the artist has cited a childhood memory of the orchard filled with talking apple trees from The Wizard of Oz as an influence on her work. Mike Kelley is one of several works the artist made in honor of former teachers, and she refers to the trees as portraits. Kelley is an artist who was also Steinkamp’s teacher in art school in California in the late 1980s.

tags: weather, science, change, cycle, environment, time, nature


  • Jennifer Steinkamp Mike Kelley

    Mike Kelley