Ellsworth Kelly was born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York. Plagued with a childhood illness, Kelly spent time with his grandmother who encouraged his interest in bird watching, an early hobby that nurtured Kelly's initial passion for color. Kelly moved to New Jersey, during 1937-38.
From 1941-43 Kelly attended Pratt and lived on his own in Brooklyn, New York. During 1943, he was inducted into the Army and eventually transferred to serve in the Camouflage Battalion where he learned the process of silk-screening. A tour of duty took Kelly to England, France, and Germany. He was in one of the final waves on the landing beaches in Normandy. After being discharged by the Army Kelly went on to study at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston under Ture Bengtz and German Expressionist Karl Zerbe.
In 1948, Kelly exhibited in his first group show at the Boris Minski Gallery in Boston. His featured half-length portraits heavily influenced by Byzantine and Romaneque art and the work of Pablo Picasso. During this year, the artist returned to France to study on the G.I. Bill at the Ecole des Beaux Arts where his artwork begans to reveal abstraction. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kelly experimented with all types of mediums including collage, wood relief, and lithography. His first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris in 1951.
After returning to New York City in 1954, Kelly met David Herbert, Betty Parson’s personal art advisor. This meeting awarded Kelly his first New York solo exhibition at Betty Parson’s
gallery in 1956. Kelly was invited to participate in the “Young America” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1957. The Whitney was the fist museum to purchase one of Kelly’s paintings, Atlantic. He became known in the 1950s and 60s for his hardedge paintings, formal, impersonal compositions painted in flat areas of color.
The Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of Kelly’s work in 1973. During the 1970s the artist moved to Spencertown, New York, and rented space in an old movie theater. The space allowed Kelly to explore large scale work. He also returned to making lithographs at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and then partnered with Tyler Graphics in 1976 to create works from colored paper pulp.
In the 1980s Kelly began creating painted metal sculpture. The Dallas Museum of Art commissioned him to create the large outdoor sculpture Curve XXIX. Kelly’s sculptures were meant to be entirely simple and viewed quickly. The viewer was to observe smooth, flat surfaces that are secluded from the space that surrounds them.
Ellsworth Kelly’s individual approach and paintings of bold, yet simple, shapes containing large blocks of color paved the way for Minimalism and Color Field Painting.
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