Coinciding with the artist’s 90th birthday year, The Phillips Collection presents its first exhibition of works by American painter, sculptor, and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923). Panel Paintings 2004–2009 features seven works consisting of two to four canvases of solid color. Abstract in form, free of narrative, and monochromatic in palette, the large-scale paintings hover on the wall, playing with light and shadow and dramatically engaging with space.
With a prolific career spanning over 60 years, Ellsworth Kelly is internationally renowned for his explorations of form, color, and space. His works, which blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, reference nature (plants, leaves, water) and architecture (facades, walls, windows). The artist’s focus on color and shape developed in the late 1940s when he was in Paris, immersed in the city’s historic art and architecture. Encountering the works of modern artists, including Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, Jean Arp, and Joan Miró, enabled Kelly to move toward abstraction and establish the painting as a concrete reality.
Painted with oil on canvas, each work in the exhibition offers a precise configuration that balances color, positive and negative space, and the relationship of work to wall. By taking the painting out of the frame, joining separate panels, and inserting the work into a setting that incorporates walls, Kelly presents each painting as an independent object in space. The layering of shapes accentuates the sculptural quality, and the intense colors make the works appear to vibrate.