Saturday, February 5, 2011

Artist Post: Ellsworth Kelly (As Seen at the National Portrait Gallery)

Blue on White, 1961

     Ellsworth Kelly's painting, Blue on White, is a prime example of the artist working in the midst of their artistic niche. Kelly was able to study art in Paris starting in 1948 as part of a grant from the G.I. Bill, after having served in WWII, and in Paris it is where he began to paint in a more Surrealistic style in comparison to his earlier more "realistic" style (MoMA). Once he began to work in a surrealistic and abstract manner, he never looked back. After living and working in Paris for several years, Kelly moved back to the U.S. in 1954 and settled in New York with the belief that, "... Abstract Expressionism was not so dominant as to preclude an acceptance of his art" (MoMA). After settling in New York Kelly began to work on large canvases that, " Juxtaposed blocks of single, flat colors with silhouetted shapes, abstracted from organic forms" (MoMA). Looking at this piece, one can see Kelly's style at work; the fluffy blue shape seems to dominate the canvas at first, but upon closer inspection, the angular white edges begin to cut into the blue (National Portrait Gallery). This serves to create a sense of harmony and disharmony at the same time. These "flat shapes" (as seen in Blue on White) serve to preserve and intensify his memories of things seen swiftly, such as glimpses of leaves, grass and cracks in the wall (National Portrait Gallery). 
     I think that this is what is at work in Blue on White. The painting is a more of a feeling then an actual representation, but the feeling calls to mind what Kelly could have been thinking of during the creative process. However, it is important to keep in mind that kelly was "not interested" in assigning meaning to his work. He preferred to, "... Create shapes and colors so vivid they seem like three-dimensional objects" (National Portrait Gallery). With this in mind, it becomes almost impossible to gain any one meaning into the work. Instead the viewer is able to draw their own connections and relate to the work in multiple, unique ways. It is as if Kelly is challenging the viewer with this vague shape and asking what the viewer is thinking, seeing or feeling.
     Personally, I think this is an amazing work. The main reason I think so is because it gives so much to the viewer and asks for so little. You can take your own view/meaning into the piece, and because it is so deceptively simple, you do not have to have any prior knowledge to really "understand" the work. The painting hits you full on and you can only "feel" it and the more you look at it, the more it looks familiar and the more it looks "real", which I think adds to the piece's accessibility.

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