Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ellsworth Kelly 1933-2015

The death of Ellsworth Kelly on 27 December 2015 was perhaps not a surprise - he had been ill for some time with pulmonary disease - but it still comes as a real sadness. Born in Newburgh, New York, on 31 May 1933, Ellsworth Kelly studied art in Boston, and then at the Beaux-Arts, Paris, under the G.I. Bill. As painter, printmaker, draughtsman and sculptor, Kelly was one of the great masters of twentieth-century art. Ellsworth Kelly lived in France for a time, and has always been appreciated there, exhibiting with the Galerie Maeght, who published a number of his lithographs in the art revue Derrière le Miroir (DLM). The art of Ellsworth Kelly was influenced by modern avant-garde artists such as Arp, Brancusi, and his fellow-American Alexander Calder, but also by Matisse.

Flower (Hommage à Aimé et Marguerite Maeght)
Lithograph, 1982

This flower study, contributed to issue 250 of DLM, reminds us that Kelly's art was not all about hard-edge minimalism. His bold, simple plant studies recall Matisse, and were well able to hold their own in the joint exhibition Henri Matisse - Ellsworth Kelly: dessins de plantes held at the Pompidou Centre in 2002. I was lucky enough to see that show, and was bowled over by the subtlety and sureness of Kelly's line.

Green black blue
Lithograph, 1958

I first came across Ellsworth Kelly's work at the major Guggenheim retrospective of 1996, which travelled to the Tate in London. It was one of those exhibitions that completely overwhelm the senses.

Orange green
Lithograph, 1964

There are many books on Ellsworth Kelly,  but I'd like to draw attention here to the most recent: the 2015 definitive monograph by Tricia Paik. Published by Phaidon, this is a truly magnificent work.


Jane Librizzi said...

Welcome back, Neil, although this is a sad occasion. I forget who said that 20th century art is either about color or about line; that may be arbitrary but I'm a sucker for color and Ellsworth Kelly did gorgeous things with it. Pointillist art is all about color but, except in rare instances, it doesn't me the way that Kelly's work can.
Thanks for the tip about the book; I'll add it to my reading list.

Neil said...

Jane - Although his colour is so vibrant, I think a good deal of Kelly's aesthetic can be traced back to Cézanne, in the sense that his primary concern is what one might call the geometry of landscape.