Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

American, b. 1923

Place of Birth: Newburgh, NY

Specialities: Modern Art

Biography

   Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923)

Nationality: American

Date of Birth: May 21, 1923

Place of birth: Newburgh, New York

Occupation: Painter, Sculptor

Movement: Minimalism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, Monochrome Painting; Hard-Edge Painting

Ellsworth Kelly is an American artist most associated with the minimalist and abstract style of Hard-
Edge and Color Field painting.

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 École Nationale Supérieure 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 style than 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 inspired

a 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 pieces measure

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.

Works exhibited at:

• Tate Modern, London

• Centre Pompidou, Paris

• San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

  

 

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 Untitled by Ellsworth Kelly

Untitled

Christie's, New York

November 13, 2014

$37,500  USD

 Untitled by Ellsworth Kelly

Untitled

Christie's, New York

November 13, 2014

$18,750  USD

 Black Panel I by Ellsworth Kelly

Black Panel I

Sotheby's, New York

November 11, 2014

$3,693,000  USD

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