Ellsworth Kelly

Black with White (Noir avec Blanc)

1964–5

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Not on display

Artist
Ellsworth Kelly 1923–2015
Original title
Noir avec Blanc
Medium
Lithograph on paper
Dimensions
Support: 894 × 599 mm
Collection
Presented by Jack Shear in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota and ARTIST ROOMS (Tate Americas Foundation) 2017
On long term loan
Reference
L04094

Summary

This is one of the complete set of twenty-seven colour lithographs which constitute Kelly’s earliest print series, Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs 1964–5. In this series Kelly used organic and biomorphic forms which had influenced his work ever since he was in Paris in the 1940s, where he became familiar with works by Joan Miró, Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi. Soft curves, egg- and stone-shaped forms are the recurring theme of the Suite. The last five examples in the series (Tate L04111–L04115) are exceptions, featuring arrow shapes and straight-edged rectangles. While Kelly repeated a number of formal compositional ideas, he employed several colour combinations and exploited the possibilities of the lithographic medium for his own artistic means. Considering the Suite as a whole, Kelly can be seen to be experimenting with the perception of different colours and their significance in the process of composition.

The Suite was produced in an edition of seventy-five, of which this set is number eight. It was made in Paris (hence the original French titles) in collaboration with Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, print publishers and owners of Galerie Maeght where Kelly exhibited in 1964.

Kelly began a serious engagement with printmaking in the mid-1960s when he was already established as an important American painter and sculptor. In 1964 he exhibited in Paris at Galerie Maeght, whose owners, Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, were also publishers of fine art books and prints. They helped Kelly to produce his first print series, Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs 1964–6 (Tate L04089–L04115). It was at this time that the artist also created his first group of plant lithographs. From then on Kelly collaborated primarily with Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, an artists’ workshop and publisher of limited edition prints and sculptures. Kelly created more than 300 editions. Though he experimented with different methods, lithography was his medium of choice.

Before creating a painting, sculpture or print, Kelly would often make a collage or drawing. The artist would archive these drawings and return to the initial concepts several years later. He would often create a composition first as a painting, and then as a print. Though aesthetically and compositionally similar to his paintings, the lithographs are nonetheless an autonomous part of his oeuvre. Richard H. Axsom, author of the catalogue raisonné of Kelly’s prints, underlined the importance of this aspect of his work:

His prints, no less than his paintings and sculptures, have their own distinctive voice. While his paintings and sculptures assert their totemic presence and tangible physicality, his prints register equally important aspects of his vision: intimacy, delicacy and ethereality. Varied in scale but consistent in their formal integrity, Kelly’s prints bear witness to his commitment to the phenomenal world.
(Richard H. Axsom, ‘Ellsworth Kelly as Printmaker’, in LACMA 2012, n.p.)

Kelly did not use the medium of print simply in order to reproduce his paintings and sculptures, but rather as a way of further exploring his ideas. Selecting the right ink mixture, format and paper colour in relation to the chosen motif was an essential part of his intensive collaboration with the print workshop.

Further reading
Ellsworth Kelly: Prints, exhibition catalogue, Portland Art Museum, 16 June–16 September 2012.
Richard H. Axsom (ed.), The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly: A Catalogue Raisonné, Portland 2012, pp.4–30.
Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings, exhibition brochure, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 22 January–22 April 2012, http://www.lacma.org/sites/default/files/KellyBrochureFinal.pdf, accessed 6 March 2017.

Monika Bayer-Wermuth
March 2017

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