Learn how Ellsworth Kelly changed abstract art

You'll find all you need to know about how the 92-year-old painter impacted US art in his first full-career monograph
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Ellsworth Kelly, Broad Street studio, New York, 1956. Photo credit: © Onni Saari. From Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly, Broad Street studio, New York, 1956. Photo credit: © Onni Saari. From Ellsworth Kelly

When Ellsworth Kelly received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013, the award citation observed that the artist “has shaped more than half a century of abstraction and remains a vital influence in American art.”

The Smithsonian Institute issued a similar declaration in 2015 when it selected Kelly for their equally esteemed James Smithson Bicentennial Medal earlier this year, describing him as “one of the most important abstract artists.”

 

Chatham X: Black Red, 1971, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 108 x 95 3/4 inches, 274.3 x 243.2 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. From Ellsworth Kelly
Chatham X: Black Red, 1971, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 108 x 95 3/4 inches, 274.3 x 243.2 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. From Ellsworth Kelly

The artist, who turned 92 this May, has been exhibiting his work for more than 60 years, and is central in the development of post-war American painting. His distinct, clear, abstract pieces are in the permanent collections of the Tate in Britain, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Switzerland’s Fondation Beyeler, as well as many other important institutions.

 

Yellow with Red Triangle, 1973, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 119 x 145 1/2 inches, 302.3 x 369.6 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Corcoran Gallery of Art. From Ellsworth Kelly
Yellow with Red Triangle, 1973, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 119 x 145 1/2 inches, 302.3 x 369.6 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Corcoran Gallery of Art. From Ellsworth Kelly

Far from declining with age, Kelly is widely regarded as being among the most powerful and important contemporary artists working today, with the New Yorker praising his 2015 exhibition as “the American artist’s all-time most thrilling gallery show.”

Given this burnished position, buyers of our new Ellsworth Kelly monograph will not only be surprised by the brilliance of the works reproduced, the high reproduction values of its 350 colour images, and the scholarly insights offered by such esteemed US art experts as Robert Storr, Professor Richard Shiff, and Tricia Y Paik. They may also be even more amazed to discover that this new book is the only complete monograph to cover Kelly's entire career from the 1940s through to today.

 

White Curves, 2001, painted aluminum and stainless steel, 234 x 131 7/8 x 49 1/2 inches, 594.4 x 335 x 125.7 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Fondation Beyeler, Basel. From Ellsworth Kelly
White Curves, 2001, painted aluminum and stainless steel, 234 x 131 7/8 x 49 1/2 inches, 594.4 x 335 x 125.7 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Fondation Beyeler, Basel. From Ellsworth Kelly

Phaidon’s new publication, produced in close collaboration with the artist himself, maps Kelly’s prolific and diverse oeuvre, taking in his paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, postcard collages and prints. The book reproduces many of best-loved pieces, as well as never-before-published images, sketches and other material from his personal archives.

 

Red Yellow Blue II, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 3 panels, 82 x 189 inches, 208.3 x 480.1 cm. Photo credit: Milwaukwee Art Museum. From Ellsworth Kelly
Red Yellow Blue II, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 3 panels, 82 x 189 inches, 208.3 x 480.1 cm. Photo credit: Milwaukwee Art Museum. From Ellsworth Kelly

The biographical passages detail Kelly’s childhood interest in bird-watching, his war years spent working as a camouflage expert during the Allied assault on continental Europe, as well as his place within the development of abstract art, minimalism and colour-field painting, as a painter and sculptor living and working in New York City.

 

Blue Curves, 2009, oil on canvas, 80 x 59 3/4 inches, 203.2 x 151.8 cm Photo credit: courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Archives / photo:   © Jerry L. Thompson. From Ellsworth Kelly
Blue Curves, 2009, oil on canvas, 80 x 59 3/4 inches, 203.2 x 151.8 cm Photo credit: courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Archives / photo: © Jerry L. Thompson. From Ellsworth Kelly

The book describes how, during the 1950s, Kelly developed a new take on abstraction, preferring a pared down and methodical approach, distinct from the prevailing, highly emotive and impromptu manner of Abstract Expressionism. This change influenced ageneration of subsequent artists, including Tauba Auerbach, Matt Connors and Alex Israel.

Within these pages you will also learn about Kelly’s early love of Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and George Seurat, his friendships with such fellow artists as Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist, as well as more idiosyncratic insights, such as his appreciation for ancient Egyptian reliefs, or the way in which shadows cast across the stairs at a friend’s holiday home in southern France served as the basis for one his best-known works.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Spencertown, NY, 2012. Photo credit: © Jack Shear. From Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly, Spencertown, NY, 2012. Photo credit: © Jack Shear. From Ellsworth Kelly

There are excerpts from his GI sketchbook, numerous studies for better known works, even drafts for paintings inked onto the spare pages of his passport.

This hardback, 368-page book comes in a clothbound slipcase, and is designed by the brilliant New York firm, Project Projects, winners of the Cooper Hewitt’s 2015 National Design Award in Communication Design.

 

Colors for a Large Wall, 1951, oil on canvas, 64 joined panels, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 in, 240 x 240 cm. From Ellsworth Kelly
Colors for a Large Wall, 1951, oil on canvas, 64 joined panels, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 in, 240 x 240 cm. From Ellsworth Kelly

It is a beautiful addition to our large-scale monographs, which number among them equally fine books dedicated to the lives and work of comparable figures, including Agnes Martin, Anthony Caro and Willem de Kooning.

 

Ellsworth Kelly with the new book, in his garden, Spencertown, NY, 2015
Ellsworth Kelly with the new book, in his garden, Spencertown, NY, 2015

Yet this new book is also as clear, distinct and joyful as many of the pieces reproduced. Indeed, this new title may present only one minor challenge. In a review of the 2015 Matthew Marks Gallery exhibition, the New Yorker quoted one unnamed visitor’s observation: “have you noticed, in any museum that has a Kelly, how everything else there looks sort of tacky?” Alas, this title might have the same effect on even the best-stocked shelves. You can pre-order the book here, and check back soon for our interview with the artist.

 

Our new Ellsworth Kelly monograph
Our new Ellsworth Kelly monograph


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