The art of athleticism: Queen Anne artist merges passion for basketball with artwork

Queen Anne artist Xavier Kelley, left, receives a hug from Domicile art gallery owner Marisa Spooner-LeDuff while standing next to one of his pieces at an artist reception celebrating Black History Month at the gallery in Madison Park on Feb. 10.

Queen Anne artist Xavier Kelley, left, receives a hug from Domicile art gallery owner Marisa Spooner-LeDuff while standing next to one of his pieces at an artist reception celebrating Black History Month at the gallery in Madison Park on Feb. 10.

At the beginning of February, Xavier Kelley had a successful art opening at Domicile art gallery in Madison Park. The Seattle resident is one of the artists on display at the gallery in honor of Black History Month.

Kelley is a former Franklin High School basketball star and member of the Seattle University track team who has carried his athletic prowess and passion into the world of art.

Heis a self-taught artist whose brightly colored abstract canvases are filled with movement and powerful symbolism. He describes his style as a mashup of academia, music and visual arts and said he is inspired to use graffiti to comment on greater issues.

“It’s a compilation of information that I find compelling or important,” he said, “I can find inspiration anywhere.”

At the artist reception, the enthusiasm was palpable when Domicile owner, Marisa Spooner-LeDuff, announced that one of Kelley’s paintings had been purchased, marking the first of the evening and Kelley’s largest sale to date. The gallery burst into applause and patrons asked Kelley to say a few words.

“I view painting like a sport and sports like an art,” he said, adding the painting that sold was based off his experiences and reflections of playing street basketball. “Basketball is my favorite thing to do besides paint.”

Zoe Kelley, Kelley’s mother, is proud of her son’s accomplishments, including the outfit she wore that evening: a custom jacket and matching bag that were a gift and designed by her son.

Photo by Kimilo Bishop Jahn

Queen Anne artist Xavier Kelley stands next to one of his paintings he displayed during the Museum of Museum’s ‘Holla Back to the Future’ exhibition in 2022.

“I move my schedule around so I can attend all the openings,” she said. “I’m just so proud and so impressed with his work.”

Zoe Kelley has many of Xavier’s paintings at her home and said they are dear to her heart and not for sale but that she would consider a loan for future art shows.

Even though Xavier had always been an athlete, Zoe Kelley said she was not surprised when her son turned to painting because “he had grown up with art and music surrounding him from a very young age.” Zoe Kelley plays the violin, Xavier’s father raps, his uncle teaches piano, and his great-grandmother was a local jazz icon, Ruby Bishop -- the Queen of the Keys at Vito’s.

“Xave even jammed with her at a gig in Capitol Hill,” Zoe Kelley said. “He’s always been fearless.”

Michael Knight, owner of R3bar Training and SkillSetsandBandReps, first met Kelley when Kelley was an elementary student and Knight his basketball coach. Kelley, he said, was on an athletic path that morphed into art. As Kelley’s passion transitioned from basketball to art, Knight’s role evolved, as well.  When Kelley pivoted and stepped into his art, Knight started booking shows and connecting Kelley with collectors.

“These are all things I’ve done for my athletes, and now I am helping X build community through art,” he said.

Kelley said it has been helpful having Knight on his team, helping him build his name and recognition in the community.

“When Michael found out I was painting, he was inspired to help me take my art to the next level,” Kelley said.

In addition to all of the paintings decorating Knight’s house and gym, Knight has gotten Kelley’s paintings in the collection of Seattle Storm’s president, Alisha Valavanis, and that of last year’s No. 1 NBA draft pick, Seattle’s Paolo Banchero. Knight connected them through his gym and commissioned Kelley to create a custom painting rich with personal symbols of the athlete’s career.

Those symbols and Kelley’s signature style were on display in Museum of Museum’s 2022 Holla Back to the Future exhibition, curated by artist Moses Sun. It was Kelley’s first museum exhibition.

Kelley cited Afrofuturism as a powerful theme in his work for the exhibition as he examined and reimagined historical lexicons and iconography. According to the exhibition guide for the show, “The Jumper’s Foot, present throughout Kelley’s work as a visual motif, represents the athletic form, technique, movement, and planning required for marginalized people to move up in contemporary society.”

Kelley’s work is on display in Domicile’s Black History Month show until March 4 at the gallery, 4116 E. Madison St., in Madison Park. Other featured artists on display were: Susan Mask, painter (; Paul Cole, painter; Danika Wright, painter (; Tonia Arehart, painter (; Damian Grava, ceramicist (; Maria Cristalli, forged iron artist (; John Kirschenbaum, wood artisan  (

Kelley will also be showing at Taswira Gallery, Wa Na Wari and Art Noire in March, April and May, respectively. Contact Kelley at or visit