Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ellsworth Kelly

Spectrum V, 1969, Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly,
a part of his art.
New York City, after the war, the 1940s and 50s, likely no other time and place on earth before or since has ever had such a vibrant art world, especially for painters. Today we refer to this time and place as the New York School. It wasn't a "school," of course in the scholastic sense (several of them, perhaps), and though it's most associated with Abstract Expressionism, even at that it sported several different "brands" of this last great painting "ism." There was the Kandinsky-de Kooning branch, the Jackson Pollock gestural branch, the almost non-representation painters, Fairfield Porter and Romare Bearden, the Color Field painters, Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Mark Rothko, and others, followed by the Minimalists. All the great ones are dead now...except for one.
Seine, 1950, Ellsworth Kelly--something like today's computerized camouflage.
Awnings Avenue Matignon,
1950, Ellsworth kelly
Ellsworth Kelly will soon be ninety years old (as of May, 31, 2012). He's outlived them all--even many of the younger ones. Born in 1923, Kelly was not a part of the hard driving, hard drinking, hard living stereotype of the Abstract Expressionist wild bunch (which probably explains why he's still living). In fact, during the formative years of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Kelly spent, not in New York, but in Paris painting figures. He painted his first abstract painting Seine (above) as late as 1950. His painting, Awnings Avenue Matignon (right) from the same year, not only illustrates his rapid movement into abstraction, but also portends his later work with color fields.

Red Blue Green 1963, Ellsworth Kelly.
By the 1960s Kelly's palette had left behind largely
monochromatic subtleties in favor strong primaries.
Kelly came to abstraction naturally. During WW II he was assigned to a group known as "The Ghost Army." Perhaps a better description might have been the "inflatable army." Their job was to create the illusion of armed might using inflatable tanks, Jeeps, trucks, artillery, and other war machines, to mislead the enemy as to the disposition of allied forces. He was involved in the most abstract of these undertakings, camouflage. That experience, coupled with training in technical drawing at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute before the war, combined to give birth to his highly geometric form of abstraction, the very antithesis of what most artists of the New York School were doing about the same time. Moreover, Kelly was a latecomer to the New York art scene, arriving back home in 1954 after some six years studying and working in Paris.

Untitled VI, 1983, Ellsworth Kelly
His sculpture is as dramatic,& yet
strikingly simple as his paintings.
It was another two years before Kelly's first show at the famous Betty Parsons Gallery and several more years before his brand of abstraction began to catch on around 1960 (his work was considered "too European"). His solid color fields and shaped canvases influenced other artists, but not buyers. After that, Ellsworth Kelly's work evolved, as seen in his Spectrum V from 1969 (top), but not as much as that of the fading New York School. Abstraction began meaning color fields and that gradually evolved into Minimalist work during the 1960s and 70s as tastes in the rarified world of fine art gradually caught up with Kelly's way of exploring the colorful, geometric world around him.

Saint Martin Landscape, 1979, Ellsworth Kelly. Yes, it's a painting, not a collage.

No comments:

Post a Comment