Universally recognized as one of the most important American artists of the last fifty years, Ellsworth Kelly has redefined abstract art through his bold paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings. Born in 1923 in Newburgh, N.Y., Kelly studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn until the age of 20, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He spent the majority of his military service in Europe. From 1948 through 1954, he lived in France, traveling and studying art and architecture.
French abstraction greatly influenced the young artist, whose style changed drastically during his time in Europe. He abandoned figuration and traditional easel painting, choosing instead to create a vocabulary of simple geometric shapes in pure, vibrant color. Kelly’s visual vocabulary is drawn from observations of the world around him—shapes and silhouettes found in plants, architecture, shadows on a wall—and has developed from his interest in the space between places and objects and between his work and its viewer. Kelly has said, “In my work, I don’t want you to look at the surface; I want you to look at the form, the relationships.”
Ellsworth Kelly / Prints was organized in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which recently staged the first retrospective of Kelly’s prolific print practice since 1988. The Museum’s exhibition includes more than 100 prints drawn from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation. It explores Kelly’s use of key formal motifs: grids, chromatic contrast, right angles, and curves. In the words of catalogue raisonné author Richard Axsom, Kelly’s prints “exchange the totemic presence, the tangible physicality and public assertiveness of the paintings and sculptures for the qualities no less genuine in registering Kelly’s vision: intimacy, delicacy, and in nearly immaterial veils of shape and color, an unmatched ethereality.”