New York

Ellsworth Kelly

Leo Castelli Graphics

Ellsworth Kelly has never been a hard-core hard-edge painter. He has never accepted the square and the 90-degree angle as god-given. His color, never reduced to a set of primaries, has always been luscious and natural, prismatic without being systematic. Taken as a whole, his work sacrifices logic and rationality for a chance to bend a line, curve space, and charge color with worldly reference. His handsome canvases have never succumbed to intellectual pretense or justification for communication, and formal explanations have always seemed way off mark. Kelly doesn’t map out an itinerary beforehand; he brings a crispness to spontaneity. His works’ visual richness doesn’t derive its beauty from esthetic values dealt out like a hand of cards; it is continually being reinvented.

Kelly’s Colored Paper Images were created by applying layers of colored pulp into molds which lay on wet sheets of paper. The molds were removed and the colored pulp was pressed into the paper by heavy felt blankets. The pressing of the paper forced some of the color out of the pulp, leaving bleeding areas of color around the forms. This bleeding is new for Kelly, and it signals a new sensuousness and a release from the drawn line (color as edge). As much as Kelly comes out of Matisse, he brings an essentially craftsmanlike sensibility to his paintings. His edges imply the continuation of form behind and in front of the edge. Flatness was employed only as it implied three-dimensionality, or the pattern on any flat thing (a window, a scarf, a dissection of the landscape into earth, surface and sky, as in Train Landscape, 1953). When Kelly began to show sections of (implicitly) large circular forms, one knew that they were meant to be completed, not that they were “hand-drawn” straight lines or mutated variants of some “ideal” shape (as in Mangold). What is convincing this time is the inseparability and mutual dependence of color—how red, yellow and blue in XVI bleed to hint at green and orange, or how black overlaps blue like a deckle edge in Ill. Drawing his inspiration from color created from process, Kelly makes a color experience which parallels the functioning of the human eye—seeing in both a continuous field and in separate, discrete colors. This relationship, and the relationship between colors, is made as clear as the dual nature of line as edge and line as shape, or, for that matter, forms as themselves and as representations of things in the world.

For all his superficial resemblance to certain reductive abstractionists, Kelly is never witness to that ponderous seriousness which supposedly drives others to consider what “issues” are most important from season to season.

Kelly’s own steadfastness and assurance more than make up for the lack of theoretical system.

Jeff Perrone