PRINT April 2016

Terry Winters

Ellsworth Kelly, Ground Zero, 2003, collage on newsprint, 11 1/2 × 13 1/2". © Ellsworth Kelly.

THE TRAJECTORY IS WELL KNOWN, from Newburgh to Spencertown, with some significant stops in between—rural Jersey, Boston and Paris, Coenties Slip and Chatham. Paintings are the signposts left along the way, color-coded markers of distance and direction. An abstract autobiography. Ellsworth Kelly sharpened his instinctive feeling for form with an exacting modernist sensibility. But despite the rigor and the reduced means, his work was essentially popular, made accessible through a selection of found sources: a shadow, a leaf, an architectural detail. Each familiar object is given an independent existence as a concrete force, the perfect product of Yankee invention and ingenuity.

In the 1970s, Kelly returned to the Hudson Valley, reanimating his boyhood fascination with nature and his ardor for bird-watching. This early passion for shape, color, and flight would become a foundational myth and find its fullest expression in the soaring chromatics of his later work. With an assist from Brancusi and a twist on Newman’s ornithology, Kelly’s aesthetics was appropriated through observation, bird-inspired. And as with the Shakers he so admired, Kelly’s aesthetic was his ethic—Mount Matisse meets Mount Lebanon in an original and lasting union. Capable of activating a transformative space both sparse and full, his work is a location for lived experience: as sensation, logic, and poetic meaning. There was no more moving memorial than Kelly’s proposal for 9/11—a green and open field on the Trade Center site—somehow a symbol both of nature’s plenitude and of human loss. Now, as the loss of Kelly himself is felt, his work stands as a continuing gift—a positive and powerful presence.

Terry Winters is an artist living in New York.