Ellsworth Kelly, ‘Orange Relief with Green’ 1991
Ellsworth Kelly
Orange Relief with Green 1991
© Ellsworth Kelly

For more than six decades, Ellsworth Kelly has focussed on the basic visual elements of form, colour and scale. To mark his ninetieth birthday, this room brings together a selection of works from the 1950s to the 2000s.

Living in Paris from 1948 to 1954, Kelly discovered the art of early twentieth-century modernists such as Piet Mondrian. However, unlike those early modernists, who used abstraction to express spiritual or political ideas, Kelly’s work is concerned with the experience of looking at art in itself.

Many of Kelly’s geometric abstractions are rooted in his close observation of the world, while others represent invented forms. Although Kelly’s paintings and sculptures appear to be wholly abstract, some are based upon forms such as the shadows on a stairway, the angular shape of a door or window, or the curve of a hillside near his home in New York State. ‘I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract’, he has said.

Kelly’s unconventionally shaped canvases defy traditional distinctions between painting and sculpture. He has long been interested in what is sometimes called ‘form’ and ‘ground’, meaning the way in which a shape interacts with what lies behind it. That might be the relationship between a shape and the canvas on which it is painted, or between the whole canvas and the wall on which it hangs. Although his work is very different in character to that of the minimalists, he shares with them a fascination for the dynamic relationship between the object, the viewer and the surrounding space.

Ellsworth Kelly was born in 1923 in New York State, where he lives and works.

Curated by Ann Coxon.