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Ellsworth Kelly

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Ellsworth Kelly Biography

born Newburgh, NY (USA) 1923

Ellsworth Kelly is an American abstract painter and sculptor, best known for his experiments with color. Mr. Kelly was born in Newburgh, NY in 1923, studied at the Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, and developed his characteristic style while in France from 1948 to 1954. Many of his early paintings consist simply of an abstract patch of bright color on a neutral background. His best-known later works have been his panel paintings, which consist of canvases joined together, each canvas painted a different and brilliantly intense color.

In 1950, Kelly made his first shaped painting and showed in his first group exhibition in Paris. Exploring his belief in the connection between abstraction and nature, he derived his forms and colors from that combination. As reference material for the shapes he painted, he photographed plants, architecture, bridges, and shadows. He returned to the U.S. in 1954 and began creating his now familiar style of flatly painted geometric canvases, the antitheses of gestural brushwork, the then-dominant style of American abstraction. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the American Abstract Expressionist movement, focused on the components of color and form, turned toward Color-field painting, Pop, and Minimalism.

During the late 1950s he used the simple biomorphic shapes and colors of these earlier paintings as a basis for some of his free-standing sculptures-aluminum forms with smooth painted surfaces. By 1956, Mr. Kelly gained critical recognition when the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York purchased a piece of his work and the Betty Parsons gallery gave him his first solo exhibition in the U.S.

From the 1970s to the present, the scale of his work increased and he joined canvases of different sizes and shapes into asymmetrical formats. Multi-panel painting and the creation of totems in bronze, wood or steel are some of the directions in which Mr. Kelly's work has evolved.

In 1995 he painted a remarkable series of single-colored panels in which he explored the seemingly endless possibilities of the curve. His most recent major exhibition was a retrospective that opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and traveled to museums in Los Angeles, London, and Munich during 1996-1998. His works are represented in museums and private collections worldwide, and he has received several prestigious awards and honorary degrees.

Select Timeline

  • 1941 - To 1943 - Studied Applied Arts at the Pratt Institute, New York
  • 1942 - To 1945 - Served military duty
  • 1946 - To 1947 - The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, drawing and painting classes with Carl Zerbe
  • 1948 - Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; travelled to see the Isenheimer Altarpiece in Colmar
  • 1950 - To 1951 - Taught at the American School in Paris
  • 1973 - The Painting Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago

Select Exhibitions

  • 1956 - New York, Betty Parsons Gallery
  • 1957 - New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Young America 1957
  • 1959 - Sixteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY
  • 1963 - Washington DC, Gallery of Modern Art, Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Ellsworth Kelly
  • 1964 - Paris, Galerie Maeght
  • 1965 - New York, Sidney Janis Gallery
  • 1966 - American Pavilion, XXXIII Venice Biennale
  • 1968 - New York, MoMA, The Art of the Real, USA 1948-1968
  • 1973 - New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly. Curved Series
  • 1973 - New York, MoMA, Retrospective
  • 1979 - New York, Leo Castelli Gallery
  • 1979 - Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Ellsworth Kelly - Painting and Sculpture
  • 1979 - New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ellsworth Kelly Recent Paintings and Sculpture
  • 1982 - Ellsworth Kelly - Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
  • 1987 - Ellsworth Kelly - Works on Paper, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA
  • 1987 - Ellsworth Kelly - A Print Retrospective, The Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit, MI
  • 1989 - Chicago, Art Institute, Ellsworth Kelly - Courtyard Installation
  • 1993 - New Displays - Ellsworth Kelly, Tate Gallery London
  • 1996 - New York, Guggenheim Museum, Ellsworth Kelly. A Retrospective
  • 1996 - Ellsworth Kelly on the Roof, Cantor Roof Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY
  • 1998 - New York, Matthew Marks, Ellsworth Kelly. New Paintings
  • 1998 - Los Angeles, New York, Munich, Retrospectives
  • 1999 - New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Ellsworth Kelly - Sculpture for a Large Wall
  • 1999 - New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly - Five Decades of Line, Form and Colour
  • 1999 - Chicago, Art Institute
  • 1999 - Ellsworth Kelly - Works on Paper 1948-1955, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Boston, MA
  • 2001 - New York, Matthew Marks Gallery
  • 2002 - Ellsworth Kelly, Tablet - 1948-1973, The Drawing Center, New York, NY
  • 2003 - New York, Whitney Museum, Ellsworth Kelly
  • 2003 - New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Sculpture

Select Artwork

  • Pears I, 1965-1966
  • Blue/Yellow/Red, 1970
  • Black Form
  • Blue Curve (State II), 1988
  • Nine Squares, 1976
  • Orient Beach, 1984
  • Cyclamen III, 1964-1965
  • Camelia III, 1964-65
  • White Curve (Radius 12'), 1976

Quotes

  • "The form of my painting is the content. My work is made of single or multiple panels: rectangle, curved or square. I am less interested in marks on the panels than the "presence" of the panels themselves. In "Red, Yellow, Blue," the square panels present color. It was made to exist forever in the present, it is an idea and can be repeated anytime in the future."
  • "I'm not interested in edges. I'm interested in the mass and color, the black and white. The edges happen because the forms get as quiet as they can be. I want the masses to perform. When I work with forms and colors, I get the edge."
  • "I'm not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow."

Publications

  • Ellsworth Kelly - by Christoph Grunenberg, Tate Gallery (September 1, 2006)
  • Ellsworth Kelly - by Herbert Muschamp, Roberta Bernstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Steidl/Matthew Marks Gallery (November 15, 2006)
  • Ellsworth Kelly: Zwischen-Raume Werke 1956-2002/In-Between Spaces, Works 1956-2002 - by Ellsworth Kelly, Gottfried Boehm, Viola Weigel, Hatje Cantz Publishers; Bilingual edition (March 2003)
  • Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue--Paintings and Studies, 1958-1965 - by Ellsworth Kelly, Toby Kamps, Julie Dunn, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (March 2003)

Quick Facts

  • He studied at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, from 1941 to 1943
  • His first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris, 1951.
  • 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.

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