January 13, 2010

From Painting to Hooked Rug: Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, Red Blue Green, 1963, oil on canvas, 83 x 135 inches

The paintings and drawings of Ellsworth Kelly have given me, in recent years, a deep sense of visual and emotional satisfaction; the drawings, with their immediacy and freshness, are especially engaging. Shape and color are simple, but it is a simplicity that comes from understanding what is essential by looking at the world and distilling its essence. Each shape seems the ideal of its kind, a Platonic form.

Kelly, Orange Leaves, 1967, graphite on paper, 29 x 23 inches

Kelly did many line drawings of plants, recording them with grace and sensitivity. The elegant quality of line reappears in the curves of his paintings.

The first time I saw some of Kelly's photographs was at the Guggenheim museum a number of years ago. It was an ah-hah moment: his shapes came from sources other than his plant drawings or his imagination. It was fascinating to see the process of his eye seizing on shapes in the world and transforming them into his art.

In 2002, the Drawing Center in NYC mounted a show of Kelly's working drawings, titled Ellsworth Kelly, Tablet: 1949-1973. It consisted of found photographs, sketches on odd bits of paper and color studies, all showing his mind at work. The images above and the pencil and color sketches below are from the catalog from the show, a wonderful publication of over 200 pages of drawings. Here and there are surprises, like the photo from a magazine of the front of a wing tipped shoe (p 170), whose shape you see repeated in drawings, or a flattened cone-shaped dixie cup (p 34). It's all a visual delight.

Kelly has been an artist I have looked to again and again for inspiration for my textiles, as the three pieces below. Now, with the large catalog of working drawings, I will look to him still.

Red Blue Green (you know who I mean), 2007, 12 x 10 inches

Blue Yellow Touch, 2007, 12 x 10 inches

Orange Sweep, 2007, 12 x 10 inches


  1. yay for ellsworth kelly's gorgeousness! -- i saw a lovely show of his sculptured parabolas on the rooftop of the met a few yrs. ago -- and for hooked rugs, and putting these both next to philip guston. what fun!

  2. for me, the way EK found forms in the spaces between forms (negative space) sure opened an alternative way to see, to look. your two 'pinched green' ruglets make me smile.

  3. oh, I'm such a literalist, rappel, that I can't help but see positive forms, but of course you're so right; he balanced color in such a way as to make each shape, positive or negative, of equal weight. And now I see the "pinched greens" differently.

    Glad you like seeing Kelly, stuart. and yes, isn't it fun to see Guston and Kelly, such very different (and both great) artists on a page together.

  4. I also love Ellsworth Kelly's work, and am so happy to see his process work here, thank-you. I think your textile pieces are great.