Ellsworth Kelly


Image: Ellsworth Kelly. (American, born 1923). Colors for a Large Wall. 1951. Oil on canvas, sixty-four panels, 7′ 10 1/2″ x 7′ 10 1/2″ (240 x 240 cm). Gift of the artist. © 2008 Ellsworth Kelly

“I have never been interested in painterliness,” Kelly has said, using painterliness to mean “a very personal handwriting, putting marks on a canvas.” There is no personal handwriting, nor even any marks as such, in Colors for a Large Wall, which comprises sixty–four abutting canvases, each the same size (a fraction under a foot square) and each painted a single color. Not even the colors themselves, or their position in relation to each other, could be called personal; Kelly derived them from commercial colored papers, and their sequence is arbitrary. Believing that “the work of an ordinary bricklayer is more valid than the artwork of all but a very few artists,” he fused methodical procedure and a kind of apollonian detachment into a compositional principle.

As a serial, modular accumulation of objects simultaneously separate and alike, Colors for a Large Wall anticipated the Minimalism of the 1960s, but it is unlike Minimalism in the systematic randomness of its arrangement, which is founded on chance. Produced at the height of Abstract Expressionism (but quite independently of it, since Kelly had left New York for Paris), the work also has that art’s mural scale, and Kelly thought deeply about the relationship of painting to architecture; but few Abstract Expressionists could have said, as he has, “I want to eliminate the ‘I made this’ from my work.”–The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 211″

Currently on display at the MoMA is an exhibition by the American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly.  Kelly’s minimalist use of color and line seems almost antiquated in today’s culture of mental oversaturation.  This style of painting was in many ways a reaction to the chaotic carnage splattered across the canvases of much abstract art.  Clean lines, geometric perfection and colors picked at random seemed radical because they swam against the current of modern Westernized life.  However, since Kelly did much of his most important work during the 1950s, his art can also be seen as a sort of austere, cool, detached commentary on the surface perfection portrayed in American domestic life.


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One response to “Ellsworth Kelly

  1. I have begun writing a series of blogs devoted to demonstrating why Ellsworth Kelly is a completely insignificant artist. I’m curious why you believe his is important. We use the same image, as it happens.

    My blog gets a certain amount of “Kelly” traffic thanks to one post I wrote last June called “Less than Perfect.” Because of that traffic, which I assumes comes from students doing a 20th art history class, I’ve written several other posts devoted to leading visitors into directions that I’d argue are visually more genuinely inventive.

    However, none of my visitors to the Kelly post ever leaves a message. Except one who said I was “ignorant,” which isn’t true since I’m quite aware of the official line about Kelly, I just do not accept it.

    Anyway, I’m curious why his “fans” like him. Because it’s “hip” or because they really do?

    Aletha Kuschan


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