Ellsworth Kelly

Orient Beach


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Not on display

Ellsworth Kelly 1923–2015
Lithograph on paper
Support: 1220 × 1272 mm
Presented by Jack Shear in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota and ARTIST ROOMS (Tate Americas Foundation) 2017
On long term loan


Orient Beach 1983–4 is a large-scale lithograph from Kelly’s Saint Martin Series 1983–4. Like Cul de Sac 1983–4 (Tate L04151), from the same series, it shows a monochrome visual fragment, a geometric form with two straight sides and one curved one. In Orient Beach the form is positioned in the bottom right corner of the paper, while in Cul de Sac it is situated towards the bottom right corner of the sheet. Kelly found inspiration for these forms in the surrounding world – shadows from an open door, a crescent moon or an architectural form from a Romanesque or Byzantine church – condensing these fragments in his bold compositions of form and colour. Although such prints are undeniably abstract, Kelly’s artistic process was deeply rooted in the real world and always started with his keen eye for contour. Orient Beach is a beach on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, which Kelly had depicted earlier in his collage Saint Martin Landscape 1976–9.

Throughout his career Kelly also realised his coloured compositions in black and white. Removing the emotional charge of the colour and concentrating on the form was a strategy through which to reaffirm the power of the composition. But he also experimented with texture. In his Saint Martin Series he explored patterns and textures through the medium of lithography – something that he had previously only done in his weathered steel and wood sculptures and in his Colored Paper Images 1976–7.

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: 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.205.

Monika Bayer-Wermuth
March 2017

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