Drawn from nature

In the way that I would draw the plants, they were not nostalgic, not pretty flowers. My drawing was to meet the eye direct
Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly Plant II 1949

Ellsworth Kelly
Plant II 1949

Private collection © Ellsworth Kelly

Renowned for his large-scale abstract paintings and sculptures celebrating pure colour and a precision of shape, Ellsworth Kelly has also created a substantial body of more representational works on paper. Developed in parallel with his abstract works, they too encapsulate the artist’s ongoing pursuit of essential form.

Kelly has made direct studies of nature from an early age. In addition to his fascination with contour drawing as a student, and the line drawings of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in the 1940s and 50s, these interests have been fundamental to the development of his ‘suites’ of plant lithographs.

Beginning in 1964, the series of lithographs actually cover three categories: plants, flowers and fruits, although leaf forms tend to be more predominant because of their inherent simplicity. Some series repeatedly explore the detail of one shape, such as Series of Oak Leaves 1992. Others can also evoke a moment or place; the artist’s travels to Europe, for example, are instilled in one suite where preliminary drawings were made in a hotel courtyard, an orangerie near Paris and on a beach at Brittany.

Kelly has always preferred the crayoned line attainable by the lithographic process. He prints to a specific size on Arches paper – whites and smoothest available. Whilst conveying the spontaneous act of drawing, his deft single lines chart both positive and negative spaces, resulting in a subtle balance of line, weight and form