Ellsworth Kelly

American Painter and Sculptor

Movements: Minimalism, Hard-edge Painting

Born: May 31, 1923 - Newburgh, New York

Died: December 27, 2015 - Spencertown, New York

Important Art by Ellsworth Kelly

The below artworks are the most important by Ellsworth Kelly - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Colors for a Large Wall (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: The large-scale Colors for a Large Wall is one of Kelly's early forays into multi-panel paintings, a fundamental motif throughout his career. Colors for a Large Wall helped introduce his deeply held view of paintings as objects; not only was this painting an object in itself, but it was comprised of many smaller objects (panels) supposedly having come together in chance collision. In this work, Kelly covered each of the 64 square canvases in a single color and fused them together based on a collage study he had arbitrarily arranged. Much of Kelly's subsequent work stemmed from this painting, as he continued to juxtapose panels of differing sizes, shapes, colors and materials in innumerable variations.

Oil on canvas, mounted on 64 joined panels. Dimensions: 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 inches. Photo by courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist, 1969

Cite (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: In Paris, artists such as John Cage and Hans Arp encouraged Kelly to experiment with the idea of chance in his artwork. For Cite, Kelly cut a black and white brushstroke drawing into twenty squares and randomly rearranged the pieces. He then turned this composition upside down and painted it onto twenty wood panels. After rearranging it once more, he connected the panels into the final painting. Although his artistic decisions ultimately dictate the final composition, Kelly's use of chance partially disconnects him from the resulting work. Such efforts to reduce the artist's emotions, influence, or individual marks have been important facets of Kelly's artwork, suggesting that all apparently "controlled" creativity is always partly a matter of an artist's making the most of chance collisions with unexpected and impersonal forces.

Oil on wood, twenty joined panels. Dimensions: 58 1/2 x 70 3/4 inches. Photo by Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

Red Blue Green (1963)

Artwork description & Analysis: Kelly put great emphasis on the tensions between the 'figure' and the 'ground' in his paintings, aiming to establish dynamism within otherwise flat surfaces. In Red Blue Green, part of his crucial series exploring this motif, Kelly's sharply delineated, bold red and blue shapes both contrast and resonate with the solid green background, taking natural forms as inspiration. The relationship between the two balanced forms and the surrounding color anticipates the powerful depth that defined Kelly's later relief paintings. Therefore, these works serve an important bridge connecting his flat, multi-panel paintings to his sculptural, layered works.

Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 83 5/8 x 135 7/8 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jack M. Farris

Black over Blue (1963)

Artwork description & Analysis: Upon returning to New York after six influential years in Paris, Kelly progressed beyond his multiple-panel paintings to reliefs. Black over Blue, first exhibited in the Betty Parsons Gallery, reflects his recurring interest in both layered works and non-traditionally shaped canvases. His paintings are often hung away from the wall, giving them a three-dimensional, sculptural quality. In fact, the painting's interaction with the wall was a strong focus for Kelly. In Black over Blue, the curved, black panel extends beyond the confines of the rectangular blue canvas, making the surrounding wall an essential part of the composition. Wall, artwork, and space itself become nearly equally important aspects of the viewer's experience, finally leading to a heightened awareness of one's own body as a similar, energized "gesture" in the same architectural setting.

Painted aluminum. Dimensions: 81 3/4 x 64 x 7 inches. Photo by Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

Creueta del Coll (1987)

Artwork description & Analysis: During the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by his move to the pastoral upstate New York, Kelly began expanding his use of the curve and making large, totem-like sculptures - many designed to be displayed outdoors. The 12-foot tall, slightly curving Creueta del Coll reflects both of these important new directions in his work.Kelly created a highly abstracted version of a specific, recognizable form - in this case, an ancient Greek statuary form known as kouros, or male youth. Like many of Kelly's sculptures, this one and a half inch-thick piece painted matte-black is very flat and has a two-dimensional quality. He encouraged his viewers to question traditional perspectives by creating sculptural paintings that might sit on the floor and flat sculptures that lean against a wall.

Weathering steel. Dimensions: 390 x 330 x 5 1/4 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - City of Barcelona, Spain

Red Diagonal (2007)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the 1990s, Kelly further developed the possibilities of the relief and continues expanding on this motif today. Red Diagonal employs a striking, geometric construction that echoes the forms created by his earlier panels attached side-by-side. At the same time, these layered pieces extend away from the wall, cutting into the viewer's space. His careful placement of the overlapping canvases creates precise, yet varying shapes in both the positive and negative space.

Oil on canvas, two joined panels. Dimensions: 84 1/4 x 109 3/8 x 2 5/8 inches. Photo by Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly - The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Donna and Howard Stone Collection

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Related Art and Artists

Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1905)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of the last landscapes of Mont Sainte-Victoire, favored by Cézanne at the end of his life. The view is rendered in what is essentially an abstract vocabulary. Rocks and trees are suggested by mere daubs of paint as opposed to being extensively depicted. The overall composition itself, however, is clearly representational and also follows in the ethos of Japanese prints. The looming mountain is reminiscent of a puzzle of various hues, assembled into a recognizable object. This and other such late works of Cézanne proved to be of a paramount importance to the emerging modernists, who sought to liberate themselves from the rigid tradition of pictorial depiction.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

Artwork Images

Large Nude in a Red Armchair (1929)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: When Picasso's work came under the influence of the Surrealists in the late 1920s, his forms often took on melting, organic contours. This work was completed in May 1929, around the same time the Surrealists were preoccupied with the way in which ugly and disgusting imagery might provide a route into the unconscious. It was clearly intended to shock, and it may have been influenced by Salvador Dali - and Joan Miro. It is thought that the picture represents the former dancer Olga Koklova, whose relationship with Picasso was failing around this time.

Oil on canvas

Affected Place [Betroffener Ort] (1922)

Artist: Paul Klee

Artwork description & Analysis: Created in Klee's early Bauhaus years, this piece shows a scene of ambiguous signs and symbols over a background of modulated purples and oranges. The various strips of color hint at a horizon, their horizontal emphasis counteracted only by the boldly painted arrow, which abruptly suggests something as ordinary as a road sign. Like the many gradations of color, the arrow generates movement, compelling the viewer's eye to the center of the picture. The influence on Klee of Cubist still lifes, such as those of Picasso and Braque, is clearly apparent: Klee suggests a motif painted from nature while also cancelling it, as though to remind us that this is no window but a kind of abstract sign system.

Ink, pencil, and watercolor on paper; top and bottom strips with watercolor and ink, mounted on cardboard - Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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