Ellsworth Kelly in Los Angeles

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For half a century, artist Ellsworth Kelly has been acclaimed for his clean, clear forms of specific and brilliant color. His precise and confident approach is best known in paintings but can be seen as well in drawings, sculpture and, especially, prints. More than 100 works on paper are on view at LACMA, organized and beautifully installed by curators Stephanie Barron and Britt Salvesen, the first retrospective in more than 20 years. Much of the work was drawn from the holdings of Jordan Schnitzer, a dedicated collector of contemporary prints who lives in Portland, Oregon.


Ellsworth Kelly, Red/Blue (Untitled), from the portfolio Ten Works by Ten Painters, 1964.
Screen print on Mohawk Superfine Cover paper
Framed: 29 3/4 x 25 3/4 in. (75.565 x 65.405 cm)
Sheet: 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm), Edition of 500, Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer
© Ellsworth Kelly and Wadsworth Atheneum

Kelly's instantly identifiable yet unique shapes and colors, inspired originally by time spent in the south of France in the 1940s and ‘50s when he discovered the art of Joan Miro, Constantin Brancusi and Jean Arp, are well-suited to the serial nature of making prints. Organized according to biomorphic shapes or grids, prismatic color, even works in black and white, the show is both instructive and elevating. This is the work of a great artist.



Ellsworth Kelly, Purple/Red/Grey/Orange, 1988; Color lithograph
Sheet: 51 3/4 x 223 1/2 in. (131.45 x 567.69 cm)
Graphic Arts Council Curatorial Discretionary Fund
© Ellsworth Kelly. Photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA


Though based in New York, Kelly has a lengthy history of coming to L.A. He showed with the legendary Ferus Gallery in 1965, Irving Blum Gallery in 1967 and showed in the landmark Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition organized by Clement Greenberg in 1964 in L.A. However, it is his relationship with publishers Gemini G.E.L. on Melrose Avenue that proved transformative. Kelly has made hundreds of editions with them and many are in the show, including the first series from 1970, Series of Ten Lithographs: Red-Orange/Yellow/Blue.



Ellsworth Kelly, Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs:
Orange over Blue (Orange sur Bleu), 1964-1965
Lithograph on Rives BFK paper
Framed: 35 1/4 x 23 3/4 in. (89.535 x 60.325 cm); Sheet: 35 1/4 x 23 3/4 in. (89.5 x 60.3 cm)
Edition of 75. Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation
© Ellsworth Kelly and Maeght Editeur, Paris

Now, he has an additional connection to L.A. in the arrival of a new branch of New York gallery Mathew Marks at 1062 N. Orange Grove. That show includes his two-panel paintings of egg-yolk yellow and white, royal blue and black, even — dare I say it? — Kelly green and blue. The gallery building by L.A.- based architect Peter Zellner is a strict white box of perfect proportions. Marks asked Kelly to create a sculpture for the front of the building to fulfill the city's percent for art requirement. Kelly's idea was a dark charcoal band mounted at the top of the façade and slightly away from the surface so that it casts a sharp horizontal shadow. Kelly says, "This isn't an ornament. It's part of the architecture."

Kelly, now 88 and robust despite bringing a portable oxygen tank with him, visited L.A. and spent time talking to me about his shows, his art, his relationship to drawing, Chartres cathedral and his long affection for L.A., especially the sun.

Ellsworth Kelly, Colors on a Grid, 1976; Lithograph on 350-gram Arches 88 paper; Framed 52 x 52 in. (132.08 x 132.08 cm); Sheet: 48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. (122.6 x 122.6 cm); Edition of 46; Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer; © Ellsworth Kelly and Tyler Graphics, Ltd.