Goodbye cool and colorful Kelly (1923-2015)

Blogs, newspapers, art magazines, websites of museums or art institutions. Most of them announced and commemorated the death of one of the most significant representatives of Postwar Abstract Painting, the American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015). End December 2015 the artist passed away at the age of 92. He was most famous for his paintings made of large, simple, sharply defined straight and curved shapes in strong colors, or made up of monochrome panels. His work is among the highlights of ‘hard edge’ and ‘colorfield painting’.

‘I think if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract’, the artist told in an interview in 1991.

Although his paintings seem to represent pure abstraction, Kelly found his inspiration in everyday life. He derived the forms of his paintings from nature and architecture: the outline of a leaf, the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge or the silhouette of a church window. His art-historical sources of inspiration ranged from the cut-outs of Matisse to Byzantine mosaics.

Kelly remained seven decades faithful to his abstract visual language. His bright, shimmering colors were his trademark. He saw himself primarily as a colorist. ‘I love color in its purest form’, Kelly said. ‘I do not like mixed colors or deep colors that are difficult to define. I loved red, yellow, blue, black and white – it is with this I started’. His ambition was ‘to make color real’. Color itself was with him the subject, the shape, the matter. And he never gave up on his first love until the very end.

Blue Red Rocker 1963. Courtesy Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Blue Red Rocker 1963. Courtesy Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam