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Ellsworth Kelly


Ellsworth Kelly, an American painter, sculptor, and refined printmaker, was born on May 31, 1923. He has worked and lived in New York in a town called Spencertown. Kelley has been associated with Hard-edge paintings, color field paintings, and minimalism. McLaughlin and Kenneth Noland have inspired his work. Bright colors are signature using colors for Kelley.

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Name: Ellsworth

Surname: Kelly


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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Ellsworth Kelly Biography

ellsworth kelly
Image Credit: Britannica

Who was Kelly as a child?

Kelly was the second child of Allan Howe and Florence Rose. Kelly’s father came from a German and Scottish background and worked in an insurance company, whereas his mother, Rose, was a schoolteacher of Welsh and Pennsylvania German Descent.

Introduction to ornithology:

When Kelly’s family moved from Newburgh to Oradell, which was a town with 7500 residents, his grandmother introduced him to the world of ornithology (it is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds). Kelly, at that time, was only eight or nine years old. It was at this time that he developed a great interest in the interplay of form and color. An author named Eugene Goossen suggested that Kelly’s artwork, characterized by the use of two or three colors, as seen in pieces like “Three Panel: Red Yellow Blue, I 1963,” may have been inspired by his early childhood exposure to bird watching and also by the close examination of birds.

Was Kelly an introvert?

Yes, Kelly said that when he was a young boy, he used to spend loads of time by himself, which made him become a shy or introverted person. Also, he had a slight problem with stuttering, which was part of him till his teenage years.

What Was Ellsworth Kelly’s Education?

Kelly studies in a regular school, but the excellent art about that school was that they focused on teaching students about art materials and how they can be creative. This way of teaching was inspired by the ideas of progressive education, which was a more extensive educational movement that came from the University of Columbia’s Teachers College. The American artist Arthur Wesley Dow was the teacher of Kelly, who used to teach in that school and whose ideas had an immense impact on how art should be conducted.

Were Kelly’s parents supportive?

No, when it came to Kelly’s art education, his parents were not that supportive or showed interest in his art-related education. Whereas his art teacher, Miss Dorothy Lange Opsut, always motivated and encouraged Kelly to pursue art as his career. Kelly’s parents were only willing to pay for his technical training, due to which he started his art education at Pratt Institute situated in Brooklyn. Kelly attended the institute from 1941 to 1943. He then left the institute after being drafted into the Army in 1943.

When and how did Ellsworth Kelly join the U.S. military?

In 1943, Kelly joined the military. He was assigned to the 603rd Engineers Camouflage Battalion, which included many artists. Kelly started his first military training at Fort Dix and later was sent to Camp Hale. In camp, Hale Kelly learned to ski, although he had never skied before. Later, after six to eight months, he moved to Fort Meade.

What was Kelly’s contribution to World War II?

During World War II, Kelly served in a particular unit called Ghost Army; other artists and designers were also part of this specific unit. The work of this unit was to deceive the enemy using inflatable trucks and tanks. They used to make the enemy believe that Allied forces were in different places or had more equipment than they did. Inclusion in this unit helped Kelly in his art training. Kelly served in the Ghost unit from 1943 till the end of the European part of the war.

What did Kelly do after the war?

After the war, Kelly pursued education in Boston and Paris by utilizing the G.I. bill. In Boston, Kelly had his life’s first-ever exhibition at the Boris Mirski Gallery. Kelley taught art classes while studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Kelly was inspired by Max Beckmann’s lecture on Paul Cezanne in 1948. In Paris, Kelley met with many influential personalities such as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jean Arp, etc. The artists who influenced Kelly’s art were Francis Picabia, Georges Vantongerloo, and Alberto Magnelli.

What is Ellsworth Kelly known for?

ellsworth kelly
Image Credit: MoMA

Kelly played a  vital role after World War II; he contributed much to postwar American art. The thing that made Kelly stand out among other artists and the thing due to which Kelly is famous is his “ABSTRACT PAINTINGS,” he used to paint geometric compositions using bright colors. Moreover, he was the first artist to use irregularly shaped canvases.

Kelly’s Career:

Even after spending six years abroad, Kelly’s French speaking skills were zero, and he had sold only one painting. In 1953, Kelly was forced to leave his studio. This was the time when he came back to his homeland, the United States. When he was back, he found the New York art scene a bit challenging for him as many struggled to see Kelly’s art connection and the existing artistic trends. In 1956, Kelly had his first exhibition in New York City, where his art drew everyone’s attention as it was more European rather than the famous New York Style. His work Painting in Three Panel was appreciated and even raised many questions regarding Multiple-panel pieces. 

In 1970, Kelly left his hometown and moved to Spencertown, joined by his partner, Jack Shear, a photographer. In 2001, he worked in the studio, which Richard Gluckman, Kelly, and Shear designed, and lived in a historic colonial house built in 1815.

Career highlights

ellsworth kelly
Image Credit: MoMA

In 2015, Kelly gifted his design concept for a contemplative space, “AUSTIN,” to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, which opened in 2018.

Kelly’s paintings:

What is Seine painting:

When Kelly was in Paris, he initially focused on figurative painting, but in May 1949, he created his first abstract art. He painted a picture named “Seine,” inspired by light interaction with the water’s surface; in this painting, Kelly drew black and white rectangles arranged in a chance-driven manner.

What is Kelly’s Spectrum Colors Arranged?

In 1951, Kelly made a series of eight collages, which were known as Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VII. These were created using numbered slips of paper, in which each color corresponded from 1 to eighteen. Then, those colors were placed on a grid of 40*40, in which each of the eight collages followed a different artistic process.

Ellsworth Kelly List of Work

ellsworth kelly
Image Credit: My Modern Met

Some of the most famous paintings done by Kelly are AUSTIN, which is a 2715 square-foot building that he designed, CURVE IV, White Disk III, And Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance.

Did Kelly win any awards for his work:

  • Yes, in 2000, he was awarded a time achievement award by The Premium Imperial Awards.

  • In 2013, he was awarded the highest honor given by the U.S. government to artists, The National Medal of Arts.

Who was Ellsworth Kelly’s partner?

In 1956, Kelly met Robert Indiana, who shifted to the same building as Kelly. And they became partners, and Kelly was a mentor to Indiana. Later, in 1964, Kelly broke up with Indianna, and the reason behind the break up was that Indianna used to use words in her paintings that Kelly considered not worthy of High Art.

Later, in 1984, Kelly lived with his husband, Jack Shear, a photographer and the director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

When did Ellsworth Kelly die?

In the year 2015, in December, Ellsworth Kelly, at the age of 99, bid farewell to this world.

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