Ellsworth Kelly (American, b.1923) is a painter and sculptor who established his own style amidst the pervasive influence of the Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements. Born in New York City, Kelly admired the works of Naturalist John James Audubon (American, 1785–1851) as a child and loved to draw, even though his parents only reluctantly permitted him to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. After serving during World War II for two years as a camouflage artist, Kelly was able to study on the GI Bill at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, MA, and then at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France.

Separated from the American art world while in Europe, Kelly developed his distinctive method of painting, which features canvases painted in a single color, at times in isolation and other times grouped with differently colored canvases. These works echo Kelly’s desire to separate himself from the traditional roles of composition and the artist’s hand. Kelly only returned to the US when he believed that the enthusiasm for Abstract Expressionism had died down enough to allow his work to get some visibility. By the end of the 1950s, he was internationally recognized for his monochromatic canvases, which began to take the shape of non-rectangular forms such as ovals and curves. Kelly also began to create sculptures similar to his paintings, featuring simple two-dimensional forms. In 1970, the artist moved to upstate New York, where he shifted his focus to create large outdoor sculptures concerned more with color than form. Many of his public works are now on display around the world. Kelly now lives and works in Spencertown, NY.

Timeline

1923
Born: in Newburgh, NY on May 31st
1941–1943
Studied Applied Arts at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
1942–1945
Served military duty
1946–1947
Diploma Program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, where he took drawing and painting classes with Carl Zerbe
1948
Ecole des Beux-Arts, Paris, France; travelled to see the Isenheimer Altarpiece in Colmar
1950–1951
Taught at the American School in Paris
1951
Had his first solo show at the Galerie Arnaud in Paris
1956
Had his first solo show in New York at the Betty Parsons Gallery
1958
Began to create freestanding sculptures
1969
Executed a mural for UNESCO
1973
Recipient, The Painting Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago
1978
Executed a sculpture for Barcelona
1986
Executed a bronze sculpture for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX
1988
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic
1993
Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Republic at the French Embassy in Washington DC
1993
Executed a memorial for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D.C.
2000
Praemium Imperiale for Painting
2002
Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic
Lives and works in Spencertown, NY

Exhibitions

2012
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany
2011–2012
Schwarz & Weiß / Black & White, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany
2008
Arp to Reinhardt: Rose Geometries, The Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA
Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, MoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
2007
Living Color, Vassarely Museum, Budapest, Hungary
2006
Picasso to Pop: Aspects of Modern Art, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
2005
Spectrum, Galerie Lelong - New York, New York, NY
2004
Neue Nationalgalerie, Das MoMA, Berlin, Germany
2003
Ellsworth Kelly, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (solo)
Sculpture, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Bremen, Neues Museum Weserburg, Die Fondation Maeght
Schloss Ujazdowski, Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Von Picasso bis Warhol, Warsaw, Poland
2002
ELLSWORTH KELLY Werke 1956-2002, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly, Tablet: 1948–1973, The Drawing Center, New York, NY
2001
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1999
Ellsworth Kelly – Sculpture for a Large Wall, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly: Five Decades of Line, Form and Colour, Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Germany (solo)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany (solo)
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper 1948-1955, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Boston, MA
1998
Ellsworth Kelly. New Paintings, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Retrospectives, Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Munich, Germany (solo)
1996
Ellsworth Kelly. A Retrospective, Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly on the Roof, Cantor Roof Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
1993
New Displays: Ellsworth Kelly, Tate Gallery, London, England
1989
Ellsworth Kelly: Courtyard Installation, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (solo)
1987
Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA
Ellsworth Kelly: A Print Retrospective, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
1982
Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (solo)
1979
XXXVI Washington, DC, Corcoran Gallery of Art, 36th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting together with Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly: Painting and Sculpture, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly Recent Paintings and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (solo)
1973
Retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (solo)
Ellsworth Kelly, Curved Series, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1968
The Art of the Real, USA 1948-1968, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1966
American Pavilion, XXXIII Venice Biennale
1965
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1964
Galerie Maeght, Paris, France (solo)
1963
Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Ellsworth Kelly, Gallery of Modern Art, Washington D.C. (solo)
1959
Sixteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1958
Galerie Maeght, Paris, France (solo)
1957
Young America 1957, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
1956
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1951
Galerie Arnaud, Paris, France (solo)
1947
Boris Mirski Art Gallery, Boston, MA