D efined by a command of color and of form, the art of Ellsworth Kelly exists at the intersection of Minimalism, Hard edge and Color field painting. Hailing from the masterwork collection of Douglas S. Cramer, the presented works embody the undercurrents of his collection and of mid-century American art - that is, the growing tension between abstraction and figuration, the blurred boundaries between mediums, and the maximized potential of line and color. Kelly’s works radically lack figuration, instead casting color as their subject on an experimentally geometric stage. Such illustrates the artist’s vehement assertion that paintings need not be merely representational, and that they can be objects in and of themselves. Crisp lines and bold colors permeate Kelly’s practice, which spearheaded the exploration of artistic juxtapositions between singularity and seriality and monochrome and polychrome.
Blue Panel with Green Curve exceptionally showcases such explorations. Here, a rectangular panel of deep blue is conjoined with a semicircular panel of light green (a trademark color for the artist). Though devoid of any representation, the conjoined forms together possess the ability to make one think about - even become nostalgic for - springtime. Such is no coincidence; Kelly’s works are permeated by various encounters and phenomena experienced by the artist throughout his life. Simultaneously evocative of water, earth, and sky, the effect of the work’s palette is further accentuated by the piece’s asymmetry. The various tensions, between the curve and the hard edge, between the green and the blue, between the positive and negative space, altogether demonstrate Kelly’s rare ability to reconcile shape, color, and form. And therefore, though there is tension, there is also harmony. Reframing the space it exists within by way of its form, Blue Panel with Green Curve (diptych) exercises spatial intervention both literally and figuratively; in its innovation, the work is also a demonstrated intervention into established canons of art history and practice.
Kelly’s later work White Relief Over Black, on the other hand, experiments with the nuance of monochrome and the confines of canvas. It is here that the influence of Malevich is truly palpable; positive and negative space undulate between the white L shape and the black square it is occupied within. Composed of two conjoined panels, the resulting artwork is architectural both in its construction and in its aesthetics. Shattering the lines between painting and sculpture, White Relief Over Black also evokes architectural drafts. Though created with decades of experience and a mastery of color, the work is deliberately deficient in bright pigments, attesting to Kelly’s ability to communicate multitudes through a small economy of color and form. As Deborah McLeod, a close friend and now a senior director at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles whom Douglas S. Cramer introduced to Irving Blum and Roy Lichtenstein, notes in her remembrances of Cramer, “One of the great attributes of Doug was that he continued to collect an artist of interest all his life. Ellsworth Kelly, who is so important in the collection and in his life is one of them. He bought in 2012, a great painting, White Relief Over Black, which Ellsworth had begun to do two panel paintings, one on top of the other at the time. And I think this painting reminded him of the great wall relief that he had at the entrance of his Biscayne Bay house. And this is something that you would see in the collection pictures talking to one another in the collection.”
Another marked infiltration into space, Untitled utilizes singular form and color to accomplish through painting that which is most often ascribed solely to sculpture. The triangular painting, by way of its straight edges, transforms the wall it is placed upon. It is in this way that Kelly’s artworks maintain symbiotic relationships with their surrounding architecture. The viewer’s gaze is left in a dance, tracing the various lines the painting is composed of and the lines it creates through its presence.
An intimate look into one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Kelly's studies - among them lithographs and drawings - reveal his command of art outside of pure abstraction. Not a preliminary step but an individualized artform for the artist, the subjects of these studies range from self-portraits to the simple geometric forms for which he is so acclaimed. Inspiration from nature permeates this set of artworks; magnolias, banana leaves, and other flora together demonstrate Kelly’s affinity for the natural world, and for immortalizing them through delicate linework. Whether through print, drawing, painting, or the grey area between mediums, the phenomenological oeuvre of Ellsworth Kelly is standalone.