I've admired the art of Ellsworth Kelly for a long time, so I expected to like the exhibition of his works at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. Instead, I got infatuated with the infinite variety of harmonious balance and tension of three colors - RED, GREEN AND BLUE - which is, not incidentally, the title of the show. This exceptional exhibition, which is organized by the San Diego museum, travels later to Houston and then to the Whitney Museum in New York. Presenting the pivotal body of work by Ellsworth Kelly from the years 1958-1965, the exhibition brings together fourteen major paintings and thirty-six related drawings, collages and photographs.---
Let me tell you the effect the artist's monumental paintings had on me when I stepped into the exhibition's main gallery: joy and celebration, pulsating energy and deeply satisfying sense of balance and resolution. It's part high-wire circus act, part restful meditation. For over fifty years Ellsworth Kelly, now eighty years old, has been creating abstract works defined by solid colors, simple geometric shapes and smooth, impersonal surfaces. It baffles me how on earth the artist finds so many possibilities within such a seemingly limited choice of shapes and colors. If you linger at the exhibition longer than half an hour, which I did, be warned of the possibility of getting high. It took me a couple of hours to calm down before I could drive home safely.-
Closer to home base, at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, I went to check out the exhibition of British artist, John Virtue, whose black and white abstract paintings I've known and liked for a couple of decades. It's not his first show in L.A., but it's probably his best. Fifty-five year old John Virtue was recently named Associate Artist of the National Gallery of London, a rare distinction, which entitles him to unlimited access to this collection, a custom-built studio there, and later, an exhibition of his works in this museum.-
Large canvases on display in L.A. Louver Gallery present an explosion of black and white paint applied vigorously, nervously, spontaneously - bringing to mind the heroic age of American Abstract Expressionism. But it takes only a few minutes in front of his works to understand how much his art owes to the great tradition of English landscape painting.-
There are a large number of artists today who paint landscapes one can easily imagine hanging comfortably over a couch in a living room. But not John Virtue's paintings. They need space to breathe. They require concentrated attention. They would blow delicate floral prints off the cushions on your couch.-
Years ago, while working as a postman in the countryside, John Virtue kept a sketchbook which he would fill with quick sketches of the landscape while delivering the mail on foot. During the rain the drawings would get wet and slightly blurred, making his images more abstract, more spontaneous. Now, many years later, he has become recognized and successful. Still, in his latest paintings, one can see the deep emotional bond between the artist and his native countryside not only remains strong, but has taken on an even stronger spiritual aspect.
"Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue"
January 19 - April 13, 2003
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
700 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
"John Virtue: The Last Paintings of the River Exe 2000-2002"
January 24 - February 22, 2003
L.A. Louver Gallery
45 N. Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291