Color, Shape, And Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, Color, Blue, Green, Red II

Ellsworth Kelly, Color

Ellsworth Kelly is an American artist who has done everything. He is an accomplished painter, sculptor, and lithographer, who has done everything from realism to abstractionism. However, he is most known for his work with color and shaped canvases, giant works of art that redefine space and play with your eyes. They are iconic and minimalistic. They are a part of a very unique movement in the sixties and seventies, where color and shapes and less-is-more became a huge movement.

One thing to note about Kelly’s work is that, like most of his contemporaries, his vision can be seen throughout many different mediums. From lithographs to drawings to eighteen feet of steel, Kelly was able to transfer his mindmelting huge color works into different medias. Now, of course, this is nothing new for any artist. I just find it extremely remarkable how precisely Kelly is able to execute his vision.

Ellsworth Kelly, Color, Red Yellow Blue

Above on the left, we have his 1968 oil on (shaped) canvas work Red Yellow Blue V next to a 1970 lithograph Blue/Yellow/Red. The two stand as almost polar opposites: the canvas work is nearly twice the size of the lithograph and is presented in a completely different manner. The canvas work shifts in size, while the lithograph–while at an angle–is static. And, really, the lithograph is a simplified version of the canvas, turned on its side. Why is this? I find that, like many artists, his minimalism progressed even further and got even more and more minimalistic. He pushed past his earlier works, like Blue Green Red II and Red White, to create even more basic items, consisting of one color or one shape or one “movement.”

Ellsworth Kelly, Stele I

Thus, he created some truly beautiful, gravity defying items. Stele I a towering steel sculpture of his at SF MOMA is a great example of how he pushed his concepts onto a new medium: the steel, one inch thin, monolith plays with color within the world, rather than shaping a room. Instead, in SF MOMA’s case, it reshapes the cityscape, providing a break from windows and walls. Similarly, Dark Green Curve in 1982 plays with one color, but is more of a play on movement and space, whose size makes you almost need to suspend disbelief that it won’t fall off of the wall or boomerang off of the wall and knock you out.

Ellsworth Kelly is one of my favorite artists and one of those people who make you rethink such basic, almost plain, art. It sounds so simple and basic to think about, but Kelly’s work really can be a challenge to comprehend. Especially since they are, you know, giant monochromatic shapes.


May 6, 2011