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(1923 – 2015), USA

Ellsworth Kelly Biography

Executed in vivid hues and often at monumental scales, Ellsworth Kelly's paintings are regularly described by critics as emotionally intense.

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Without any trace of the artist's hand on their pristine surfaces, Kelly rendered scenes, objects, or experiences to a few, flat colours. Born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York, Ellsworth Kelly studied technical art at the Pratt Institute in the early 1940s. Between 1943 and 1945 he served in the military, creating decoys out of rubber and wood to inflate the Allied troops' numbers and mislead enemy fire. This practice of imitating weight and movement with the bare minimum—creating impressions out of simple forms—would go on to influence the artworks for which he later became known.

After completing his service, Ellsworth Kelly enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1948 he moved to Paris and continued his studies at the École des beaux-arts under the GI Bill. In Paris he was exposed to a range of contemporary and historical art movements. His early works show the influence of surrealist systems in particular.

Ellsworth Kelly's early works were especially inspired by the chance-based collages of his acquaintance Jean Arp. Kelly's Seine (1951) drawing, for example, depicts light on the surface of the Seine River. To create this image, the artist divided his canvas into a grid and pulled numbers from a box to determine which squares he would colour in.

During the 1950s, in addition to works such as Seine, Kelly began to create reliefs and collages while travelling through Paris and meeting significant members of the mid-20th-century European avantgarde, including Alexander Calder and Francis Picabia. In 1954, the artist returned to New York City.

The New York art scene that Kelly returned to was dominated by Abstract Expressionism. Though he often worked on a large scale similar to the Abstract Expressionists, Kelly avoided the movement's key gestural qualities. Instead, he approached his canvases in his signature style, which would come to be known as part of the hard-edge painting movement.

Paintings such as Blue Green Red (1963), in which horizontal forms in green, red, and blue are stacked against each other, exemplify Ellsworth Kelly's sharp approach to colour and shape. In the late 1950s, the artist began also fabricating sculptural objects such as Gate (1959), in which the approach of his painting practice entered three-dimensional space.

American artist Glenn Ligon took Ellsworth Kelly's Blue Black (2000)—a 28-foot wall sculpture made of honeycomb aluminium that Kelly created for the Pulitzer Arts Foundation Foundation, St. Louis—as the inspiration for the group exhibition he curated at the Foundation in 2017. Speaking to Ocula Magazine about the artist, Ligon described Kelly as a 'master of distilling things', saying 'The discussion around his paintings is formalist but they're very emotional in some ways.'

Ellsworth Kelly died in Spencertown, New York, in 2015. His final work was a 2,700-square-foot chapel, opened posthumously in 2018 at the University of Texas' Blanton Museum of Art. Kelly continues to be exhibited world-wide in significant solo and group exhibitions including Postwar Abstraction: Variations, Oklahoma City Museum of Art (2020), and Ellsworth Kelly: Fenêtres, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019).

Biography by Ocula | 2020

Ellsworth Kelly Featured Artworks

Wild Grape by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellyWild Grape, 1960Graphite on paper
42.5 x 34.9 cm
Pace Gallery
Burdock by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellyBurdock, 1969Ink on paper
73.7 x 58.4 cm
Pace Gallery
Concorde IV by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellyConcorde IV, 1981-82Etching with aquatint on Arches Cover paper with deckled edge
34 1/2 x 25 7/8 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Leaf V by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellyLeaf V, 1978Lithograph
30 x 42 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Small Red Curve by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellySmall Red Curve, 2012One colour lithograph on Rives BFK paper
17 7/16 x 12 1/2 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled (Purple State I) by Ellsworth Kelly contemporary artwork
Ellsworth KellyUntitled (Purple State I), 1988One color lithograph on Arches 88 paper
129.5 x 116.8 cm
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Works on Paper from a Distinguished Private Collection at 68 Park Place, East Hampton, New York
Closed
12–20 August 2020 Group Exhibition Works on Paper from a Distinguished Private Collection 68 Park Place, East HamptonNew York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Continuing Abstraction at Gagosian, Basel, Switzerland
Closed
10 June–13 July 2019 Group Exhibition Continuing Abstraction GagosianBasel

Ellsworth Kelly Represented By

Ellsworth Kelly In Ocula Magazine

Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron Ocula Conversation Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron By Anna Dickie, New York

Private curator to Donald B. Marron for over two decades, Matthew Armstrong discusses working with the collector, reminiscing on the boyish enthusiasm Marron exuded when it came to art.​

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Ellsworth Kelly In Related Press

The Colors of the Sixties Related Press The Colors of the Sixties 6 April 2019, Hyperallergic

The eighth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, as David Breslin, the Director of the Collection, sees it, is 'a place for surprises.' The elegant spaces of the museum's top floor, catching the light off the river through its skylights and glass walls, have felt enchanted ever since it opened in 2015 with the Early Modernist 'Forms...

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How American legend Ellsworth Kelly mastered colour and shape Related Press How American legend Ellsworth Kelly mastered colour and shape 26 July 2018, Wallpaper*

A new monograph chronicles the pioneering American painter, printmaker and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, from the war-torn 1940s to the final work before his death in 2015, and every colour-clad note in between. Curated by art historian and Kelly specialist Tricia Paik, and shaped in close collaboration with the late artist, Ellsworth Kelly trace...

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Embodied presence: Ellsworth Kelly, 1923-2015 Related Press Embodied presence: Ellsworth Kelly, 1923-2015

In 1963 William Rubin identified in the work of Ellsworth Kelly “a particularly American combination of hedonism and the puritanical.” Kelly, who died December 27th, aged 92, at his home in Spencertown, NY, was, indeed, an artist who defied easy categorization. An exponent neither of minimal art, color field abstraction nor hard edge...

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Ellsworth Kelly changed the face of art. At 92, he's still not done Related Press Ellsworth Kelly changed the face of art. At 92, he's still not done 3 August 2015, The Guardian | 31 July 2015

The colours are always brilliant in Ellsworth Kelly’s world – even in the garden. Two hours north of New York, outside a studio built to his own design, is a lawn of such intense and blazing green it could be one of the American painter’s own monochromes. For more than 50 years, Kelly has been creating even, saturated paintings...

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