New York

Ellsworth Kelly

Sidney Janis

At the Sidney Janis Gallery Ellsworth Kelly’s new paintings show a greater mobility of form balanced finely by his characteristic use of high-keyed, equal-valued color. While these works are not as luxurious as the rainbow sequences he exhibited two years ago, they mark out a new but fruitfully retrospective area in an heuristic development. He is now able to work his way through and beyond some of the figure-ground problems he had encountered in earlier work. Younger artists like Charles Hinman carried some of these concerns into three-dimensional shaped canvas, although Kelly himself extended them quite successfully into his own curved and planar sculpture. He has used separate painted color panels before, but to different and more optical coloristic ends than those he is currently exploring. Separate but joined sections of canvas are now shaped to suggest volumetric structures seen in perspective.

Depth and dimension are implied in paintings like Two Panels: Blue Green, which initially seems to form an illusion of a green cube faced on one side with blue and viewed from above. Because the two colors are kept at an even intensity and value and do not set up a strong optical vibration between themselves, the flatness of the separate areas of the field is secured and the illusion of depth is contradicted. The field then becomes more physically obvious and appears as a square missing two of its corners, sectioned into a green right angle and a blue square. Kelly also manages to neutralize the normal positive-negative relationships of light and dark when he joins triangular black and white panels into a square. The patent physicality of each section, and of the two joined into a whole, tends to work against the dominance of the dark half. To my eye the paintings composed of separate, contiguous canvases worked more effectively than those which were sectioned by painted color areas only. Black Green may read as a 3-point perspective view of a greenfaced black cube, or as an irregular hexagon inflected with a green rhomboid, but the ambiguities are not as forceful, nor the volumes of color as emphatic and balanced as the separate panel paintings.

Two of the latter demonstrate the kind and quality of thinking and feeling which inform Kelly’s current work––Blue Red: Two Panels, and Red Green: Two Panels. The first one is composed of two elongated trapezoidal segments joined at their narrow ends. The intensity of the bright red, abutted by an equally saturated blue, creates a kind of hovering aura along the center hinge. This combination pushes the hinge out from the wall by its sheer chromatic brilliance, but the strong overall shape and flatness of the converging panels push this visual effect back on itself and hold the surfaces of the painting to the single plane. In Red Green the temptation is to read the painted form as a trapezoid projecting out from the wall. However Kelly reverses visual expectations by placing the advancing hot red in the uppermost and supposedly receding panel, while the more recessive green colors the lower panel which seems to flare outward; and again, the separate identity of the two units reinforces the flat plane.

In other paintings no perspectival effects are employed, but diagonal divisions of the canvas add a volumetric dimension without resorting to orthogonal illusionism. Though compelling at first sight I found that these works, like Yellow Black (an L-shaped yellow panel filled in by a black parallelogram) or Blue Yellow Red (a vertical parallelogram stacked with blocks of those colors), were less complex in feeling than the multi-panel paintings.

Emily Wasserman