Posts Tagged ‘Frank Stella’

Art | Ellsworth Kelly – More Real at 90

Friday, June 21st, 2013
Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004 – 2009
The Phillips Collection
Washington DC, USA
22nd June – 22nd September, 2013

The Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, represent Ellsworth Kelly, who is the subject of their current show, Ellsworth Kelly at Ninety. Opening the relavent ‘Works in Exhibition’ page on their website, one gets an overview of the shapes and colours that have preoccupied the artist during recent years. Almost child-like in simplicity, they might comprise the elements of a dismembered Alexander Calder mobile. Though less playful when viewed singly, each of Kelly’s paintings emotes a similar subtle sense of balance and is as easy on the eye as Calder’s sculptures.

Born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York, Ellsworth Kelly, has a prolific career spanning over 60 years. Comparisons with Calder stem from when Kelly, then 25 years-old, arrived in Paris after WWII, where he met and came under the influence of both Calder – by then 48 and firmly established amongst the modernist pioneers, having been working in the city since the 1920s – and Brancusi, already 70, whose simplification of natural form had a lasting effect on him. It was then that Kelly began to produce abstract work although, due to the illness and depression brought on by his war experiences, at first he restricted his palette to black and white. Over the next few years, he immersed himself both in the rich historical resources of Paris, its architecture and contemporary art scene, discovering Henri Matisse, whose paper cut-outs he admired along with Jean Arp’s colourful collages. As is evident in the images illustrating this post, the geometry and simplicity of form expressed in the work of the De Stijl artists, Georges Vantongerloo and Piet Mondrian, particularly impressed Kelly and would remain abiding influence throughout his life. He sites Fernand Léger’s use of bright colours as being particularly inspirational. In his mid-80s, in a throw-back to those early Paris days, as a reflection of his concerns over the controversies surrounding US involvement in the Iraq war, Kelly was to return, temporarily, to working only in black and white. But generally, he says, he is not political; as with Calder, he paints in bright colours because he wants his paintings to have a good spirit.

1954 saw Kelly back in New York during the heyday of abstract expressionism but, fiercely independent, he avoided aligning himself with that movement or any other. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, he was among the first artists, including Frank Stella, to discard the conventional square or rectangular painting format in favour of irregularly shaped canvases or panels. When he places one panel on top of another panel, he has said about the effect achieved, that it makes the work ‘more real’. His exhibition Panel Paintings 2004 – 2009 at Washington DC’s Phillips Collection, comprises seven of his multi-panel works. These large-scale, rectilinear pieces blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture and make more sense when seen in the round – playing with light and shadow, dramatically engaging with space – which is how he intends them to be viewed.

Also showing in Washington DC, Ellsworth Kelly: Colored Paper Images, is an exhibition of 23 prints at the National Gallery of Art.

MoMA is currently showing the Chatham Series, the first series of paintings, Kelly produced after leaving the city for upstate New York, in 1970. For an overview of all Ellsworth Kelly 90th birthday-related events happening in New York, go to the GalleristNY blog.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation’s ‘first show of contemporary art in ninety years,’ and first by a living artist is Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall, dominated by the 1956-57 Sculpture for a Large Wall, made of 104 anodized aluminum panels, some of them colored red, blue, yellow and black, arrayed in four long rows each measuring 65 feet.

All works above from Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004 – 2009
at The Phillips Collection
. From top

Yellow Relief over Red, 2004
Oil on canvas, two joined panels
Private collection

Green Blue Black Red, 2007
Oil on canvas, four panels
Private collection

White Diagonal II, 2008
Oil on canvas, two joined panels
Private collection

Red Relief, 2009
Oil on canvas, two joined panels
Private collection

All photos Jerry L Thompson, courtesy the artist. ©Ellsworth Kelly

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