March 1, 2011

Ellsworth Kelly in Black and White

Black Curve Diagonal, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 40 3/4 x 120 1/8 inches.

This grand sweeping curve of black so struck me when I walked into the new Ellsworth Kelly exhibit at Matthew Marks that I caught my breath: it is a perfect expression of grace and simple beauty. Like most of the paintings in the two venue show, it is made up of two panels placed one atop the other, one black and one white, the surfaces matte and uniform. The duality of black/white can be read in many ways, but I see it as a stripping bare of the idea of color.

Black Relief III, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 75 1/4 x 65 3/8 inches.

Each shape has a clarity and refinement as if the ideal of its type, like a Platonic form. There is a lively balance of the shape and its ground, and the small tensions of point and edge add energy. The fact that the painting is a relief and casts shadows emphasizes its solid presence.

Black Curve Relief, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 75 1/4 x 65 3/8 inches.

What a beautiful curve! it rises up skyward and pushes at the white space at its side, both at rest and dynamic.

Black Relief II, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 74 x 70 x 2 5/8 inches.

My photographs of these paintings aren't as good as they could be: the white of the canvas should be truly white. But I felt my images give more of a feel for the actuality of a physical object than the possibly more accurate ones at the gallery website. I like seeing the shadows of each panel, as they seem an essential part of the work.

Black Relief V, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 80 x 48 x 2 5/8 inches.

It is not easy for me to articulate why I love these paintings, why when I look at them I feel an enlargement of my spirit, an opening of my heart. They might seem so bare and cold to many, but to me they are like looking into the mind of the world.

In the smaller space at Matthew Marks is a show of black and white drawings that Kelly completed from 1954-59; in them we can see the genesis of his new paintings. The drawings explore form with wit and fluidity. These works also make me feel happy, with a deep joy in the surprise and wonder of art.


  1. Oh, I agree! What a wonderful group of things!

  2. Susan, I'm so glad you like these.

  3. So glad to visit with you and Ellsworth. I like the way you show them very much.