Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Ellsworth Kelly

Born 1923 Newburgh, New York, USA. Died 2015

Kelly studied at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, 1941-42 before serving in the US Army from 1943-45 in a camouflage unit; after the war he attended the Boston Museum School 1946-8 immediately after which he went to study and paint in Paris where he stayed for six years. During this time he began to develop an abstract visual language using glimpsed fragments of the physical world, a shadow on a wall, or a space between two objects for instance, painted in pure, unmodulated colour. He was to have his first solo exhibition of paintings and reliefs in Paris in 1951.

In 1954 he returned to New York where he became a leading and influential figure among the artists pursuing minimalist, colour field styles of painting, indeed he has been dubbed the 'father' of hard-edge painting, though he always acknowledges the crucial influence of artists like Arp, Mondrian and Matisse whom he encountered during his studies in Paris. His paintings of the 1960s were among the most ruthlessly abstract, consisting of flat areas of colour devoid of expression or symbolism. He continued to base these on chanced-upon shapes recorded in sketch books and honed down into simple, elegant images in his brilliantly coloured and often very large scale, canvases. Kelly also began making metal sculptures exploring the same shapes and relationships.

Kelly began exhibiting regularly in group and solo shows in America and increasingly abroad and by the early 1960s had achieved truly international recognition. His first retrospective was held at MoMA in 1973 and in 1977 he was featured at Documenta in Kassel, Germany. A retrospective of his sculpture was been mounted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 1982, and a career retrospective organised by the Guggenheim Museum in 1996 travelled to the Tate Gallery in London and the Haus der Kunst in Munich. In 2009 a large exhibition of Kelly’s drawings was shown in the UK at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.


Red Blue 1
Red Blue 2