Biography

Occupation: Painter, Sculptor
Movement: Minimalism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, Monochrome Painting; Hard-EdgePainting
Ellsworth Kelly is an American artist most associated with the minimalist and abstract style of Hard-Edge and Color Field painting.
FAMOUS ARTWORKS
“Colors for a Large Wall” 1951
“Cite” 1951
“Blue on White” 1961
“Red, Blue, Green” 1963
“Black Over Blue” 1963
“Red Yellow Blue” 1966
“Spectrum IV” 1967
“Creueta del Coll” 1987
“White Curves” 2002
“Red Diagonal” 2007
Early Life
The artist was one of three brothers born to Allan Howe Kelly and Florence Bithens Kelly in Newburgh, New York, in 1923. Shortly after his birth, Kelly’s family moved to New Jersey. The Kelly family moved a lot, moving house almost every year in the New Jersey and Hackensack area.While living in the town of Oradell, Kelly’s grandmother initiated him at a young age into bird watching. This helped the artist train his eye and cultivate an appreciation for the natural world and physical beauty. Kelly has a passion for color and form. He drew inspiration from American naturalist artists such as Louis Agassiz Fuertes and John James Audubon who influenced his work throughout his life. During his childhood, Kelly was left by himself a lot, and therefore became somewhat of a loner. In his boyhood,he attended a public school that emphasized artistic imagination. Although not fully supported by his parents,he sustained his interest in art through the encouragement of teachers. As his parents would only fund a technical education Kelly enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which he attended till 1941, when he was inducted in the army for military service during the war.
Military Service and Studies Post War
During World War II Kelly served with other artists in a unit called the Ghost Army. These Ghost soldiers used inflatable tanks, trucks, and other basics of maneuvers to mislead the Axis forces and mask the actual direction and placement of Allied forces. During this time he had a lot of exposure to military camouflage and this experience later influenced his art aesthetic. Kelly served with the unit from 1943 till the end of the European phase of the war.
Through the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, Kelly studied for two years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and went on to study at the ÉcoleNationaleSupérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Although he hardly ever attended class in Paris, he engrossed himself with the rich artistic history of the city. It was in Paris that he met Swiss sculptor-painter Alberto Giacometti and Belgian abstract sculptor-painter Georges Vantongerloo among others and it was here that he refined his art esthetic.
Return to America
Kelly returned to America in 1954. He found it hard to gain a foothold into the art world in his home country after having spent so many years abroad. But he held his first exhibition in New York at the Betty Parson’s Gallery in 1956. Kelly’s work was more European in stylethan the dominant artistic trends in America at the time. In 1970 Kelly moved to Spencertown, where he continues to live till date.
Career in Art
During his time in Paris, Kelly predominantly painted figures. In 1949 he made his first abstract painting which was inspired by how light seemed to disappear when it touched the surface of the water. He painted the “Seine” in 1950. Kelly discovered Monet’s late works in 1952, and this inspireda certain freedom in his own artistic style. He veered towards abstract form and in the 1960s, started working on irregularly shaped canvases. He subsequently transformed the canvas to become a form of art in itself.
His childhood spent in nature always influenced his art and he drew many drawings of flora. His plant studies are mostly contour drawings of leaves, stems and flowers done in smooth strokes of pen or pencil, centered on the page. Kelly produced numerous lithographs such as the“Purple/Red/Gray/Orange” (1988), which may be the largest single sheet lithograph ever made.
Although better known for his painting, Kelly has made many sculptures. He started by looking at the juxtaposition of two simple forms, layered one on top of the other. But only after 1973 did he start making large outdoor sculptures, which tend to have a totemic quality. Some of these piecesmeasure up to 15 feet.
Kelly’s style is inward-oriented and he strives for perfection with subtle yet powerful strokes. He currently lives in Spencertown, New York, in a house that he shares with his partner, the photographer Jack Shear.
TIMELINE
1923  -  Born in Newburgh
1941–43  -  Pratt Institute, Brooklyn
1942–45  -  Serves in the Armed Forces
1946–47  -  School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1948  -  Ecole des Beux-Arts, Paris
1950–51  -  Teaches at the American School, Paris
1951  -  First solo show at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris
1973  -  The Painting Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
1988  -  Chevalier, l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
1993  -  Chevalier, Legion d’Honneur 
2000  -  Praemium Imperiale for Painting
2002  -  Commandeur, l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Lives and works in Spencertown, New York
MAJOR EXHIBITIONS
1947  -  Boris Mirski Art Gallery, Boston
1951  -  Galerie Arnaud, Paris
1956  -  Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
1957  -  Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1958  -  Galerie Maeght, Paris
1959  -  Museum of Modern Art, New York
1963  -  Gallery of Modern Art, Washington DC
1964  -  Galerie Maeght, Paris
1965  -  Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
1966  -  Venice Biennale, Venice
1968  -  Museum of Modern Art, New York
1973  -  Museum of Modern Art, New York
1973  -  Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
1979  -  Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
1979  -  Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
1979  -  Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1979  -  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
1982  -  Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1987  -  Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston
1987  -  The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit
1989  -  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
1993  -  Tate Gallery, London
1996  -  Guggenheim Museum, New York
1996  -  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
1998  -  Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
1999  -  Museum of Modern Art, New York
1999  -  Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York
1999  -  Kunstmuseum, Bonn
1999  -  Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
1999  -  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
1999  -  Fogg Art Museum, Boston
2001  -  Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
2002  -  Fondation Beyeler, Basel
2002  -  The Drawing Center, New York
2003  -  Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
2003  -  Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
2003  -  Neues Museum, Weserburg 
2003  -  Die Fondation Maeght, Paris
2003  -  Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Warsaw
2004  -  Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
2005  -  Galerie Lelong, New York
2006  -  The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
2007  -  Vassarely Museum, Budapest
2008  -  The Rose Art Museum, Waltham
2008  -  Museum of Modern Art, New York
2011–12  -  Haus der Kunst, Munich
2012  -  Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
MUSEUMS / COLLECTIONS
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Tate Gallery, London
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover
Akron Art Museum, Akro
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
Dublin City Gallery | The Hugh Lane, Dublin
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Saint Louis
Reina Sofía National Museum, Madrid
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle
Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
BOOKS / PUBLICATIONS
Ellsworth Kelly” by John Coplans
Ellsworth Kelly: Wood Sculpture” by Brenda Richardson
Ellsworth Kelly: Spectrums” by David Batchelor
Ellsworth Kelly” by S. Whitfield and Rochelle Steiner
Ellsworth Kelly: the years in France” by Yve Alain Bois
Ellsworth Kelly: Diagonal” by Johanna Burton
Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper” by Diane Upright
Ellsworth Kelly” by Diane Waldham
Ellsworth Kelly” by Tricia Paik
Ellsworth Kelly” by Christoph Grunenberg
 

  

 

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