It’s Day 56 and I’m starting to relax a bit in my new home! Still tons and tons to do, but I can’t complain. This week is still going to be quite busy so I chose another “simple” artist. I say “simple” in the most irrelevant sense because I’ve found that I’ve been wrong in so many instances. 🙂 Please join me in paying tribute to Ellsworth Kelly today.
Ellsworth Kelly (born May 31, 1923) is an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker associated with hard-edge painting, Color Field painting and the minimalist school. His works demonstrate unassuming techniques emphasizing simplicity of form, similar to the work of John McLaughlin andKenneth Noland. Kelly often employs bright colors. He lives and works in Spencertown, New York.
Kelly was born the second son of three to Allan Howe Kelly and Florence Bithens Kelly in
Newburgh, New York, a town approximately 60 miles north of New York City. His father was an insurance company executive of Scots-Irish and German descent. His mother was a former schoolteacher of Welsh and Pennsylvania-German stock. His family moved from Newburgh to New Jersey shortly after he was born. Kelly remembers his mother moving his family each year to a different house. They lived in many places in New Jersey both in and around the Hackensack area.
Many of Kelly’s memories are of the time they lived in Oradell a town of nearly 7,500 people. His family lived near the Oradell Reservoir, where his paternal grandmother Rosenlieb introduced him to bird watching at the age of eight or nine. Bird watching helped Kelly train his eyes and develop his appreciation for the physical reality of the world by focusing on nature’s shapes. He developed his passion for form and color.
As part of his interest, he studied the works of Louis Agassiz Fuertes and John James Audubon. Audubon had a particularly strong influence on Kelly’s work throughout his career. Author E.C. Goossen speculates that the two and three-color paintings (such as Three Panels: Red Yellow Blue, I 1963) for which Kelly is so well known can be traced to his bird watching, and his study of the two and three-color birds he saw so frequently at an early age. Kelly has said he was often alone as a young boy and became somewhat of a “loner”. He had a slight stutter that persisted into his teenage years.
Kelly attended public school, where art classes stressed materials and sought to develop the “artistic imagination”. This curriculum
was typical of the broader trend in schooling that had emerged from the Progressive education theories promulgated by the Columbia University Teacher’s College, at which the American modernist painter Arthur Wesley Dow had taught. Although his parents were reluctant to support Kelly’s art training, a school teacher encouraged him to go further. As his parents would pay only for technical training, Kelly studied first atPratt Institute in Brooklyn, which he attended from 1941 until he was inducted into the Army on New Year’s Day 1943.
While in Paris, Kelly had continued to paint the figure but by May 1949, he made his first abstract paintings. Observing how light dispersed on the surface of water, he painted Seine (1950), made of black and white rectangles arranged by chance. In 1952 he started a series of eight collages titled Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII. He created it by using numbered slips of paper; each referred to a colour, one of eighteen different hues to be placed on a grid 40 inches by 40 inches. Each of the eight collages used a different process.
Kelly’s discovery in 1952 of Monet’s late work infused him with a new freedom of painterly expression: he began working in extremely large formats and explored the concepts of seriality and monochrome paintings. As a painter he worked from then on in an exclusively abstract mode. By the late 1950s, his painting stressed shape and planar masses (often assuming non-rectilinear formats). His work of this period also provided a useful bridge from the vanguard American geometric abstraction of the 1930s and early 1940s to the Minimalism and reductive art of the mid-1960s and 1970s. Kelly’s relief painting Blue Tablet (1962), for example, was included in the seminal 1963 exhibition, Toward a New Abstraction, at the Jewish Museum.
During the 1960s he started working with irregularly angled canvases. Yellow Piece (1966), the artist’s first shaped canvas, represents Kelly’s pivotal break with the rectangular support and his redefinition of painting’s figure/ground relationship. With its curved corners and single, all-encompassing color, the canvas itself becomes the composition, transforming the wall behind it into the picture’s ground. In the 1970s he added curved shapes to his repertoire. Green White (1968) marks the debut appearance of the triangle in Kelly’s oeuvre, a shape that reoccurs throughout his career; the painting is composed of two distinct, shaped monochromatic canvases, which are installed on top of each other: a large-scale, inverted, green trapezoid is positioned vertically above of a smaller white triangle, forming a new geometric composition.
After leaving New York City for Spencertown in 1970, he rented a former theater in the nearby town of Chatham, allowing to work
in a studio more spacious than any he had previously occupied. After working there for a year, Kelly embarked on a series of 14 paintings that would become the Chatham Series. Each work takes the form of an inverted ell, and is made of two joined canvases, each canvas a monochrome of a different color. The works vary in proportion and palette from one to the next; careful attention was paid to the size of each panel and the color selected in order to achieve balance and contrast between the two.
A larger series of twelve works which Kelly started in 1972 and did not complete until 1983, Gray was originally conceived as an anti-war statement and is drained of color. In 1979 he used curves in two-colour paintings made of separate panels.
In his recent painting, Kelly has distilled his palette and introduced new forms. In each work, he starts with a rectangular canvas which he carefully paints with many coats of white paint; a shaped canvas, mostly painted black, is placed on top.
Partial biography from wikipedia.
I hope you enjoy my piece in honor of this wonderful artist. See you tomorrow on day 57! I’m going to continue watching my Vikings marathon now. 🙂 Best, Linda