From left: Ben Affleck (photograph by Gage Skidmore), Ellsworth Kelly (photograph by Jack Shear)

Ben Affleck will direct a movie about Ellsworth Kelly’s war

The Hollywood star has signed up to both star in and lens a film about Kelly’s camouflage unit, The Ghost Army

Ellsworthy Kelly’s refined, contemplative abstract artworks are about as far removed from the battlefield as you can imagine. Nevertheless, the artist fulfilled a fairly remarkable role during the Second World War. 

Kelly, who was, prior to his enlistment in 1943, an art student at New York’s Pratt Institute, joined the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops unit. Known as the Ghost Army, Kelly and his compatriots served in a tactical deception unit, duping the Axis forces by creating dummy vehicles, playing confusing sound effects and broadcasting misleading radio transmissions. 

“We painted rubber tanks, and we’d inflate them in fields in Normandy,” Kelly recalled back in 2012, “and we counted on the spy planes to see them.”

Many of these creative servicemen went on to become notable figures of post-war American culture; the fasion designer Bill Blass, the photographer Art Kane, and the wildlife painter, Arthur Singer all served alongside Kelly. World War II enabled Kelly to see Paris, and his service record allowed him to return to the continent in 1948, to study, thanks to the GI Bill. 


Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly

Now, three years after the artist’s death, his work on those inflatable tanks looks set to win him some posthumous attention. Variety reports that the Hollywood star Ben Affleck has signed up to direct and appear in a film about the Ghost Army’s WWII exploits.  

Though the movie is in its early stages, a script, based on an earlier book and documentary, has already been developed by writers who have previously worked on the superhero movie Shazam!, and the HBO series True Detective. Sounds like no shortage of drama there.

For more on Ellsworth Kelly’s life and work order a copy of this book; for more on his place in 20th century, post-war art, get Painting Beyond Pollock.