Ellsworth Kelly 1923-2015

I’m interested in the space between the viewer and the surface of the painting – the forms and the way they work in their surroundings. I’m interested in how they react to a room. – Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly saw the big picture. He was not only careful about what he placed on his canvas or paper, but also about how his work was placed on a wall in a room.

There were several things that led Kelly to become a keen observer of the world around him and reduce what he saw to pure form and color; as a shy, frail child his mother and grandmother took him outdoors to get fresh air and introduced him to birdwatching. The shapes and colors that he saw as he looked at the birds, the plants and the trees had a profound influence on his work.

He loved to draw, reducing what he saw in nature to basic forms.

While deployed in Paris as part of a unit that designed camouflage during World War ll, Kelly fell in love with the city. He returned to Paris, and lived there for six years, after his army discharge and study at the the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts School.

It was during a visit to the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, that Kelly began to how he wanted to paint.  He paid more attention to the architecture of the museum than to the art on display in the building. On a trip to the island of Belle-Île, off the coast of Brittany, in the summer of 1949, Kelly found himself intrigued by the framework of the window of small cottage he was staying in and painted a simplified version of its lines in black against  a white background. That exercise was the beginning of a long career as a Minimalist artist, whose works influenced artists of post-war America.

He began making prints in the 1960s, many of which are now in the permanent collection of the National Gallery. Kelly was able to recreate the intensity and pure form of his paintings into his prints, many of which are available at VFA.

Kelly also created collaged postcards, mischievously inserting flat, colored forms onto incongruous backgrounds. He made over 400 postcards from 1949 to 2005. They are currently on display at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards will be on exhibit through November 28, 2021.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the work of Ellsworth Kelly available at VFA.

Arte Fuse. Lilt, Joy and Clarity: The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly (Photo Story). October 27, 2021.
Shahrzad Rasekh. Sotheby’s Auctions TV Legend Douglas S. Cramer’s Lichtenstein Paintings & More. Gotham. October 8, 2021.
Stephen Maine. The Unexpected Humor of Ellsworth Kelly. Hyperallergic. November 3, 2021.
Daisy Woodward. Five Things You Might Not Know About Ellsworth Kelly. AnOther/Art & Photography, July 4, 2018.