Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly


Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923 – December 27, 2015) was an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker associated with hard-edge painting, Color Field painting and minimalism. His works demonstrate unassuming techniques emphasizing simplicity of form, similar to the work of John McLaughlin and Kenneth Noland. Kelly often employed bright colors. He lived and worked in Spencertown, New York.

Kelly used the G.I. Bill to study from 1946-47 at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he took advantage of the museum's collections, and then at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While in Paris Kelly established his aesthetic.There in the City of Lights he attended classes infrequently, but, immersed himself in the rich artistic resources of the French Capitol. He had heard a lecture by Max Beckmann on the French artist Paul Cézanne in 1948 and moved to Paris that year. There he got to know fellow Americans John Cage and Merce Cunningham, experimenting in music and dance, respectively; the French Surrealist artist Jean Arp and the abstract sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, whose simplification of natural forms had a lasting effect on him.

The experience of visiting artists in their studios — such as Alberto Magnelli, Francis Picabia, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Vantongerloo — was transformative.

After being abroad for six years, Kelly decided to return to America in 1954. He had become interested after reading a review of an Ad Reinhardt exhibit, an artist whose work he felt his work related to. Upon his return to New York, he found the art world "very tough." Although Kelly is now considered an essential innovator and contributor to the American art movement, it was hard for many to find the connection between Kelly's art and the dominant stylistic trends. In May 1956 Kelly had his first New York City exhibition at Betty Parsons ' Gallery. His art was considered more European than was popular in New York at the time. He showed again at her gallery in the fall of 1957. Three of his pieces: Atlantic, Bar, and Painting in Three Panels, were selected for and shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art 's exhibit, "Young America 1957". His pieces were considered radically different from the other twenty-nine artists' works. Painting in Three Panels, for example, was particularly noted; at the time critics questioned his creating a work from three canvases. For instance, Michael Plante has said that, more often than not, Kelly's multiple-panel pieces were cramped because of installation restrictions, which reduced the interaction between the pieces and the architecture of the room.

Kelly eventually moved away from Coenties Slip, where he had sometimes shared a studio with fellow artist and friend Agnes Martin, to the ninth floor of the high-rise studio/co-op Hotel des Artistes at 27 West 67th Street.

Kelly left New York City for Spencertown in 1970 and was joined there by his partner, photographer Jack Shear, in 1984. From 2001 until his death Kelly worked in a 20,000-square-feet studio reconfigured and extended by the architect Richard Gluckman in Spencertown. Kelly and Shear moved to the residence they shared until the painter's death, a wood-clad Colonial house built c. 1815, in 2005. Shear serves as the director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

Kelly died in Spencertown, New York on December 27, 2015, aged 92.


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