Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Infobox Artist
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = Ellsworth Kelly

imagesize =
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birthname =
birthdate = Birth date and age|1923|05|31
location = Newburgh, New York
deathdate =
deathplace =
nationality = American
field = Painting, sculpture
training = Pratt Institute
École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts
School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
works =
patrons =
influenced by =Henri Matisse
Pablo Picasso
Romanesque and Byzantine art
influenced =
awards =

Ellsworth Kelly (b. Newburgh, New York, May 31, 1923) is an American painter and sculptor associated with Hard-edge painting, Color Field painting and the Minimalist school. His works demonstrate unassuming techniques that emphasize the simplicity of form. Kelly often employs bright colors to enhance his works. Ellsworth Kelly is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery, New York. He lives and works in Spencertown, New York.


Kelly was born the second son out of three boys to Allan Howe Kelly and Florence Bithens Kelly in Newburgh, New York, a town approximately 60 miles north of New York City. Goossen, E.C. Ellsworth Kelly. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1973.] His father was an insurance company executive with Scottish-Irish and German decent. His mother was a former schoolteacher from Welsh and Pennsylvania-German stock. His family moved from Newburgh, New York, to New Jersey shortly after he was born. Kelly remembers his mother moving his family around 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 centered on the time they lived in Oradell, New Jersey a town of nearly 7,500 people at the time. They lived near the Oradell Reservoir where his paternal grandmother Rosenlieb introduced him to bird watching at the age of eight or nine. This introduction to bird watching enabled Kelly to train his eye and develop his appreciation for the physical reality of the world by focusing in on nature’s shapes. This is where he developed his passion for form and color. He continued to further expand his knowledge on this particular passion by studying the works of Louis Agassiz Fuertes and John James Audubon. John James Audubon had a particularly strong influence on Kelly’s work throughout his career. Author E.C. Goossen speculates that we can trace Kelly’s two and three-color paintings (like "Three Panels: Red Yellow Blue, I" 1963), for which he is so well known to his bird watching and his acquaintance with the two and three-color birds he so frequently watched at such an early age. Kelly has said he was constantly alone as a young boy and became somewhat of a "loner". This resulted in him having a slight stutter up into his teenage years.


Kelly’s schooling from the elementary to the high school level is considered conventional. Kelly would have taken art classes that were typical to the times of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which would follow an Arthur W. Dow influenced curriculum. During high school Kelly juggled between the thought of going into theater or going into the art world. His parents were reluctant to support Kelly's training in the arts, but a school teacher offered the necessary encouragement. [Museum of Modern Art Biography: http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?artist_id=3048] As his parents would only fund technical study, Kelly was educated first at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which he attended from 1941 to 1943, until he was inducted into the army on New Year’s Day, 1943. Upon his departure from the army, Kelly chose to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is here he took classes in drawing, painting, design, sculpture, and art history. He excelled in all of his classes, earning mostly A’s, and spent a lot of time in the Museum's collections. He also frequented other museums in Boston such as the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. After a year in Boston, Kelly decided to move to and study in Paris, which was considered to be the center of the art world at the time. He registered as a full-time student at Paris’ École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, a very popular school. Although he was registered as a full-time student under the G.I. Bill, he attended classes very infrequently. [“Ellsworth Kelly: Biography.” Collections. Guggenheim Museum. ] Eventually, the city of Paris became his inspiration. It is in Paris that Kelly established his aesthetic. Coplans, John. Ellsworth Kelly. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1972.]


Upon entering military service in 1943 he requested to be assigned to the 603rd Engineers Camouflage Battalion, which was normal for artists at the time to do. He was inducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey and waited there several weeks for transfer orders that never came. He was then sent off to Camp Hale, Colorado where he trained with mountain ski troops. He had never skied before. His transfer came in six to eight weeks later and he went to Fort Meade, Maryland. During World War II, he served, alongside other artists and designers, in a deception unit known as The Ghost Army. The Ghost soldiers used inflatable tanks, trucks, and other elements of subterfuge to mislead the Axis forces about the direction and disposition of Allied forces. He had a lot of exposure to military camouflage during the time he served. His exposure to the visual art of camouflage can be seen as part of his basic training. Kelly served with the unit from 1943 until the end of the European phase of the war: returning home, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1947. He then headed overseas again to attend Paris's École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, on the G.I. Bill.


Kelly decided to return to America in 1954 after being abroad for six years. His decision to venture back into the New York art scene was sparked after reading a review of an Ad Reinhardt exhibit, to which he felt his work related. Upon his return to New York he found the art world “very tough.” The acceptance of his art was anything but rapid. Although Kelly can now be considered an essential innovator and contributor to the American art movement, he was not always seen in such a positive light. Much of the reason his work did not catch on quickly was because it was so different from other pieces of the times. It was hard for many to find the connection between Kelly’s art and the style of where art was going. Kelly first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris, 1951. In May of 1956 Kelly had his first New York exhibition at Betty Parsons’ Gallery. The art he showed in this exhibit was considered by many in the art world to have more of a European flair. He showed at Betty Parsons’ Gallery in the fall of 1957. He had three pieces, "Atlantic", "Bar", and "Painting in Three Panels" selected and shown for the Whitney Museum of American Art's show "Young America 1957.” His pieces were considered radically different from the other twenty-nine artists’ work. "Painting in Three Panels," for example, was particularly noted and questioned for the idea of having more than one canvas used to create one piece was unheard of at this time. Critic Michael Plante commented on this use of multiple-panels by noting that more often than not Kelly’s multiple-panel pieces were cramped in accordance to the installations restrictions, which resulted in a downplay of the interaction between the pieces and the architecture of the room. [Plante, Michael. "Things to Cover Walls: Ellsworth Kelly’s Paris Paintings and the tradition of Mural Decoration.” American Art Vol. 9, No. 1. Spring, 1995: 36-53. JSTOR. 10 Feb. 2008 ]


Although Kelly may be better known for his paintings, he has also pursued sculpture throughout his career. Kelly’s sculpture “is founded on its adherence to absolute simplicity and clarity of form.”Sims, Patterson and Emily Raugh Pulitzer. Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982.] The source of the piece is usually unidentifiable to the viewer's eye, however there is almost always a source behind the forms he creates. Kelly creates his pieces using a succession of ideas on various forms. He may start with a drawing, enhance the drawing to create a print, take the print and create a freestanding piece, which is then made into a sculpture. Kelly’s sculptures are meant to be entirely simple and can been viewed quickly, often only in one glance. The viewer observes smooth, flat surfaces that are secluded from the space that surrounds them, when looking at a sculpture by Kelly. This sense of flatness and minimalism make it hard to tell the difference between the foreground and background. Kelly's "Blue Disc" was included in the seminal 1966 exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York entitled, "Primary Structures" alongside many much younger artists just beginning to work with minimal forms.


William Rubin noted that “Kelly’s development had been resolutely inner-directed: neither a reaction to Abstract Expressionism nor the outcome of a dialogue with his contemporaries.” [William Rubin, “Ellsworth Kelly: The Big Form,” Art News, vol. 62, no.7 (November, 1963), p. 34.] Many of his paintings consist of a single (usually bright) color, with some canvases being of irregular shape, sometimes called "shaped canvases." The quality of line seen in his paintings and in the form of his shaped canvases is very subtle, and implies perfection. This is demonstrated in his piece "Block Island Study" 1959.


Kelly’s background in the military had an impact on his work. The seriousness of his works can be attributed to the time he served in the military.While serving time in the army, Kelly was exposed to and influenced by the camouflage with which his specific battalion worked. This close contact helped enlighten him on the use of form and shadow as well as the construction and deconstruction of the visible. It was a basic part of Kelly’s early education as an artist. Ralph Coburn, a friend of Kelly’s from Boston, introduced the technique of automatic drawing to him while he was visiting Kelly in Paris. Kelly embraced this technique of arriving at an image without looking at the sheet of paper upon which the image is drawn. These techniques helped Kelly in loosening his particular drawing style and in the end broaden his acceptance of what he believed to be art.Kelly’s illness and coexistent depression may possibly be related to his use of black and white during his last year in Paris.The influence of Kelly’s admiration for Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso are apparent in his work. His ability to view things in various ways and work in different mediums is in thanks to them.
Piet Mondrian influences the different forms he uses in both his paintings and sculptures for they are nonobjective.Kelly was first influenced by the art and architecture of the Romanesque and Byzantine eras while he was studying in Paris.His introduction to Surrealism and Neo-Plasticism influenced his work and caused him to test the abstraction of geometric forms.


*"Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris", 1949, oil and wood on canvas, Private Collection
*"Spectrum of Colors Arranged by Chance", 1951-53, oil on wood, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
*"Black Ripe", 1955, oil on canvas, Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
*"Sculpture for a Large Wall", 1957, anodized aluminum, Museum of Modern Art, New York
*"Red Blue Green", 1963, oil on canvas, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
*"Curve IX", 1974, polished aluminum, Private Collection
*"Three Panels: Orange, Dark Gray, Green", 1986, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York
*"Red Curves", 1996, oil on canvas, Private Collection


* 1951 "Kelly Peintures et reliefs"Galerie Arnaud, Paris
* 1956 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
* 1957 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
* 1957 "Young America 1957", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
* 1973 "Ellsworth Kelly", Museum of Modern Art, New York
* 1977 "Ellsworth Kelly: Paintings", Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
* 1982 "Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
* 1987 "Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper", Fort Worth Art Museum, Fort Worth
* 1994 "Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings", Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
* 1996 "Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective", Guggenheim Museum, New York
* 2002 "Ellsworth Kelly in San Francisco", San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
* 2003 "Ellsworth Kelly: The Self-Portrait Drawings, 1944-1992", Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
* 2006 "Ellsworth Kelly: New Paintings", Matthew Marks Gallery, New York


External links

* [http://www.tate.org.uk/stives/exhibitions/ellsworthkelly/ Ellsworth Kelly in St Ives] exhibition at Tate St Ives, UK, 2006
* [http://www.meyersonsymphonycenter.com/EllsworthKelly.cfm Ellsworth Kelly in "Blue Green Black Red: The Dallas Panels"] on the north wall of the main lobby at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas
* [http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?artist_id=3048 Biography from the Museum of Modern Art, includes selected images and bibliography]
* [http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_bio_72.html Biography from Guggenheim Museum] includes selected works, and suggested reading list.
* [http://www.matthewmarks.com Matthew Marks Gallery] represents Ellsworth Kelly.
* [http://vernissage.tv/blog/2008/06/04/interview-with-ellsworth-kelly-art-39-basel-2008 VernissageTV] Interview with Ellsworth Kelly at the Art 39 Basel Fair.

NAME= Kelly, Ellsworth
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Painter, sculptor
DATE OF BIRTH= 1933-05-31
PLACE OF BIRTH= Newburgh, New York

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