“I think all of my work comes out of drawing.”
Michael Govan the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art told W Magazine in 2012 “No other artist has pursued color and form as relentlessly and purely as Ellsworth.”
Whilst color is an essential ingredient in the work of American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, it is the artist’s use of the line that defines his forms and as he told Gwyneth Paltrow in her Interview Magazine chat with the artist “I don’t like shading. Just the line. As I say, the line is the excuse. And it’s fast. It’s always fast.”
A facet that reveals itself in his wood sculptures which also underscores his fascination with nature, as he said, “I wanted to do as little as possible to the wood. So there’s this wonderful curve. When you’re standing in front of it, the curve is swift. The eye takes it in in a second. But the marks on the wood took a hundred years or more to be made. The marks are a given. The swiftness of the curve versus the marks that took so long to be made—I love it”
Because it is Kelly’s use of observed reality to inform his abstraction that has distinguished him from many of his contemporaries. As he says “I keep investigating how the sun hits a building and the shadow that appears with it or the look of a field of bright green, the curve of green. I’m constantly investigating nature—nature, meaning everything.”
It was in Paris in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, after leaving the US Army’s camouflage unit, that Kelly started to develop his abstraction from nature along with his multi panel painting format. As he reclled “I didn’t come back from Europe until I was 30, and by then I already figured out my style of painting. In France, they thought I was too American. And when I came back, people said, “You’re too French.” I just stuck to my guns and continued painting. I thought I had something really important that came to me in France. That was hard, though, because it was right at the moment of the breakthrough of the Abstract Expressionists.”
When minimalism and color field painting began to take over from Abstract Expressionism in the 1960’s Kelly’s work became more fashionable and whilst not being that closely aligned with the new movements the public acceptance of his work has gone from strength to strength.
It is perhaps best explained by Michael Goven’s reaction at the inclusion of a Kelly sculpture in an exhibition of Assyrian relief sculptures at Williams College. “I was looking at these thousands-of-years-old sculptures, and there was Ellsworth Kelly’s simple form—and they stood up to each other perfectly.” He recalled. “I didn’t know what I was more impressed by—that Ellsworth Kelly could live up to the standards of ancient art or that the ancient art still seemed current.”
Kelly’s latest sculptures and paintings are currently on show at all four of Matthew Marks Gallery spaces in New York until the 20th of June. Kelly passed away Sunday 27 December 2015.