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Line & Color: The Nature of Ellsworth Kelly

In 1948, artist Ellsworth Kelly moved to Paris in order to be near all that European culture had to offer. He stayed for almost a decade, traveling to see museums and making sketches of frescoes and stone sculptures in the many cities he visited, something he was not able to do while he was stationed near Paris during World War II. He befriended fellow American artists while absorbing the artwork of the early 20th century, as well as European masters such as Arp, Matisse and Brancusi. In the mid-1950s, he moved back to the United States just as New York was becoming a central cultural hub. By this point, Kelly’s creative vocabulary had been established. His vision of abstraction reflected the world around him, rather than the emotional and process-based abstraction of New York artists such as Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning.

At the end of 1964, Kelly returned to the City of Light for a solo exhibit of his paintings at the Galerie Maeght. While there, he took advantage of the fact that the owners of the gallery were also publishers of artist books and fine art prints. He made his first significant foray into the medium of prints and multiples with two series—Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs and Suite of Plant Lithographs. Thus began Kelly’s lifelong relationship with lithography.

The fact that these two suites were created simultaneously is significant. Kelly wanted these two subjects of his art to be seen as correlative. The plant drawings informed the abstracted shapes, just as much as he saw abstract shapes in plants. “I did not want to ‘invent’ pictures, so my sources were in nature, which to me includes everything seen,” the artist once said. In the same way that he drew from plant material for the Suite of Plant Lithographs, he also lifted shapes from his everyday life to create the abstracted forms that became fodder for the Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs. The planar forms of a staircase and the grid of a window frame held as much potency as the plant forms he found in the garden. His artwork continued along these intertwined paths for the entirety of his career.

Relevant research areas: North America, 20th Century, Lithography

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