Ellsworth Kelly

Jack Red


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Not on display

Ellsworth Kelly 1923–2015
Lithograph on paper
Support: 1197 × 955 mm
Presented by Jack Shear in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota and ARTIST ROOMS (Tate Americas Foundation) 2017
On long term loan


This is one of a series of lithographs which Kelly created in 1988 depicting either himself or his husband, the American photographer Jack Shear (born 1953). While in EK 1988 and EK Green 1988 the artist’s own portrait appears as a faded, monochrome colour photograph of his head and shoulders, the portraits of Jack are in closer detail and their compositions appear to be more heavily edited. In three different close-ups (Jack IIII, all 1988) Jack is shown with different expressions, his cropped features entirely filling the sheet. In Jack I the image is grainy and the contours of a serious facial expression are barely legible; in Jack II, by contrast, the contours are clear and Jack is portrayed directly facing the viewer with a calm, neutral look; Jack III is again grainy but the strong expression of his smile gives the composition a dynamic energy. One of these three facial expressions is repeated respectively in Jack Blue 1988, Jack Gray 1988 and Jack Red 1988, so that Jack Blue is a stern portrait, Jack Gray the neutral one and Jack Red the smiling one.

In EK Spectrum IIII 1988 and Jack Spectrum 1988 Kelly repeated the single portraits from the earlier prints, this time in six different colours, seamlessly connecting them to form a long strip. In EK Spectrum I the artist’s self-portrait is repeated in bright, saturated colours in, from left to right, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and green. In EK Spectrum II and III this colour sequence is repeated, but with less colour saturation each time so that the portraits in II appear more faded and those in III even more so. In Jack Spectrum 1988 Kelly repeated the smiling portrait of Jack six times, using the same faded colour sequence as in EK Spectrum II. Though these works refer aesthetically to the multiples of Andy Warhol (1928–1987), they are distinct from them in terms of content: while Warhol represented celebrities and well-known brands of consumer goods, as well as his own self-portrait, Kelly used personal images which are unknown to the broader public, undermining Warhol’s strategy in a playful manner.

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
Richard H. Axsom, Ellsworth Kelly, Ellsworth Kelly: Portraits at Gemini G. E. L., Los Angeles, 1990.
Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Prints, exhibition catalogue, Boston University Art Gallery, 11 September–25 October 1998.
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, p.246 (EK 1988), pp.247–9 (Jack I–III 1988), p.250 (EK Green 1988), pp.251–3 (Jack Blue, Gray, Red 1988), pp.254–6 (EK Spectrum IIII 1988).

Monika Bayer-Wermuth
March 2017

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