Holly Shen on Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly is a celebrated artist whose oeuvre successfully combines both Minimalist and Color Field tendencies. Vibrant color, geometric shaped canvases, and relational scale are hallmarks of his paintings. However, Kelly’s artistic practice is marked by periods of exploration in other mediums. He pursued printing and producing handmade paper in 1973 during his collaborative years with Kenneth Tyler, the founder of Tyler Graphics in Bedford, New York, and a key figure in the so-called “American Print Renaissance.”1

Kelly’s revival of a traditional art form highlights his adherence to the craft of the artist. This characteristic sets him apart from many of his contemporaries, who worked with industrial materials and prefabricated forms and who attempted to subvert any trace of the artist’s hand.

Reminiscent of his first handmade paper pieces from 1973 — a series entitled Colored Paper Images — Kelly’s study for Dark Blue Panel from 1984 appears to adopt the same technique of handmade colored paper pulp. Heavy amounts of ink and paint applied over the pulp conceal the original sheet of paper in a dark blue wash. Bright pink color, indeed the original tone of the pulp, mysteriously emanates at the edges. The work is nearly monochrome, but upon closer inspection, cloudy-gray bits and round, nebulous flecks dot the surface. In achieving this highly textured look, this study creates a haptic tension typically associated with sculpture. Accordingly, Dark Blue Panel was at one time labeled “collage” and subsequently changed to “mixed media.” Kelly’s choice to curve the edges of the paper, resulting in a soft concavity, belies the principally square shape. The form contracts inward on itself yet the application of matte color forces it to extend back outward. The barely perceptible perimeter of pink color contains and regulates the expansion. It breathes.

  1. Richard H. Axsom. The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1949-1985. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1987. []
This entry was posted in Ellsworth Kelly, Holly Shen. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Kelsey Cyr says:

Color is such a simple and pure element. It need not be over-analyzed, just experienced. As I look at Kelly’s work I experience great calmness. It seems to gently pulsate with a quiet power, rythmic with my own inhale and exhale.